March 9, 2021

"[Cornel] West said in an interview with The New York Times last week that he did not know why his request to be considered for a tenured post had been rebuffed..."

"... but that he thought it could have something to do with his age and his support for the Palestinian cause, which he called a 'taboo' issue at Harvard." 

From "Cornel West Is Leaving Harvard After Tenure Dispute/The public intellectual and professor of African-American studies will head to Union Theological Seminary in New York" (NYT)(excellent photo of West at the link). 

And here's the article from last week: "Cornel West Is in a Fight With Harvard, Again/The popular professor, who left Harvard in 2002 after a dispute with its president, says he may leave again if the university does not grant him tenure." 

West rose to prominence with his 1993 best-selling book, “Race Matters,” followed by another best seller, “Democracy Matters.” He graduated from Harvard in 1973 and was recruited to its faculty in 1994 as part of a “dream team” to help rebuild the foundering African-American studies program. Over the years, he branched out from academia to advise or campaign for presidential hopefuls like Bill Bradley, Ralph Nader, Al Sharpton and most recently Bernie Sanders. He dabbled in hip-hop and played “Councillor West” in two Matrix movies. An album he collaborated on, “Four Questions,” is up for a Grammy.

Dr. West says the tenure issue arose when he came up for his five-year employment review recently. The faculty committee that oversaw that review recommended that his position of Professor of the Practice be converted to a tenure job, people familiar with the committee’s work said. Although he had been offered more money and an endowed chair, the dispute, Dr. West said, is not about money. (Nontenured professors can sometimes make more than tenured ones.)

The last time Dr. West clashed with Harvard’s administration was in 2001, when Mr. Summers, a former treasury secretary in the Clinton administration, took over as the university’s president, vowing to imbue the place with creative tension and to curb rampant grade inflation. Mr. Summers suggested that Dr. West was spending too much time on outside activities and not enough time on serious scholarship and teaching in the classroom, according to accounts at the time. An aide to Mr. Summers said at the time that it was all a “terrible misunderstanding.”

But Dr. West would not be placated and left for Princeton in April 2002. On the way out, he called Mr. Summers a bully and “the Ariel Sharon of American higher education,” a characterization criticized as having anti-Semitic overtones.

By the time Dr. West returned to Harvard in 2017, Mr. Summers was long gone. Harvard’s current president, Mr. Bacow, “actually has some decency,” Dr. West allowed. He said he is mystified as to why he would not be given a tenure review, but offered some possibilities: a reluctance to grant a coveted position to someone of advancing age, whose best work might be assumed to be behind him, and concerns that his support for the Palestinian cause might offend the prevailing orthodoxy and donors....

80 comments:

Joe Smith said...

He doesn't already have tenure?

That's surprising.

But he's a great example of a quota hire.

Tenure should be abolished.

Get your job done every day...no coasting.

That's what happens in the real world.

rcocean said...

So, Race Professor who writes race crap no one reads, gets denied tenure at Left-wing College almost no one goes to.

Got it.

Openidname said...

From Harvard to Union Theological Seminary? No college more prestigious than Union Theological Seminary would take him? There's more to this story.

Mike Sylwester said...

... Dr. West was spending too much time on outside activities and not enough time on serious scholarship and teaching in the classroom

That is the reason why he did not get tenure.

Lucid-Ideas said...

"Dr. West was spending too much time on outside activities and not enough time on serious scholarship and teaching in the classroom."

Jesus they should absolutely give him tenure. Do whatever it takes to keep this human feather duster from serious scholarship and out of the classroom. That's win win.

MikeM said...

Harvard's loss is Facebook's gain.

Mike Sylwester said...

Tenure has become a weak protection.

If they want to get rid of a tenured professor, then they can do so. They'll just say he's a sexist or a racist.

Easy as pie.

======

Eventually, all the non-progressives will be gone from the universities. Only progressives will be hired, and so eventually the entire staff will be politically progressive.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I find it hard to believe that the Palestinian cause is taboo at Harvard, which has at least had much discussion of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. I would be curious to know whether what his statement translates as "But they didn't do what I wanted, therefore they must not be listening." He has not been above vile insult in his criticism of individuals.

Last time is was about not doing enough academic work.

Ken B said...

He had tenure when he was younger, but left. Now he is doing no research and his position was mostly honorary. He wanted tenure on top, and the denial was for perfectly sensible reasons.

tim maguire said...

I'm surprised a star like West wouldn't be fast-tracked for tenure.

Unknown said...

He seems high maintenance, but that's probably par for the course in Harvard.

Joe Smith said...

Btw, Blogger sucks yet again this morning.

So pardon me if there are occasional double-posts...I'm trying to delete them.

Michael K said...

I'm sure Duke would love to have him. He'd fit right in with the 88.

Krumhorn said...

I truly don’t see the point of tenure. In the real world, people actually have to perform up to even a very low standard. Tenured professors at a state university with union protection don’t do fuck all. It’s certainly NOT about academic freedom because that doesn’t exist in the current faculty lounge.

Here in California, it’s all about suckling slurpily at the gub’ment teat. Lots and lots of slurpy suckling.

- Krumhorn

Wince said...

Cornel West is a "public intellectual" in the sense that Professor Irwin Corey was a public intellectual.

narciso said...

They didnt like his part in matrix reloaded

Scotty, beam me up... said...

Until this post, I had never heard of Union Theological Seminary. I am guessing Union Theological Seminary is using him to raise their profile based on his “name” and that he couldn’t get a position elsewhere despite his “name”. I am guessing that there is something unsaid here with West that is going on, especially with his veiled anti-Semitic comment about being a Palestinian supporter to cover up the real reason.

DavidUW said...

Here’s another “dr”

But it’s “mr” summers

What a joke

Ann Althouse said...

He HAD tenure at Harvard before he QUIT. He was hired on again in a non-tenure track position, with an understanding that he wouldn't be considered for tenure. But he was very well-paid.

He's also had tenure at other prestigious places — Princeton and Yale, if I remember correctly.

A question is if these places gave him tenure before, why can't he have tenure again now? It is a bit hard to explain, and Harvard supposedly can't talk publicly about its personnel decisions, but I think there was an arrangement with him, and he wanted to change it and went to the press, thinking Harvard would cave. But it didn't.

Owen said...

Funny spin on the story of his departure. I think it would be more accurate as "My Work Here Is Done, Says Racist Ideologue On His Leaving Harvard."

Joe Smith said...

"Cornel West is a "public intellectual" in the sense that Professor Irwin Corey was a public intellectual."

Like Neil deGrasse Tyson is the 'Bill Nye the Science Guy' for black people?

Ann Althouse said...

"So pardon me if there are occasional double-posts...I'm trying to delete them."

When your post doesn't immediately appear, that can be because we are moderating comments pre-publication. That's usually not happening, but sometimes we need to do it. There's nothing malfunctioning at Blogger. We are just using one of the functions!

alfromchgo said...

Don't you know who I am?!!!!!!
Pay me, promote me!
Because..

or I'll call the Times an Post on you. Then you know what happens the scarlet R word

Joe Smith said...

"A question is if these places gave him tenure before, why can't he have tenure again now?"

Maybe because he's slacking off as of late.

Why not give tenure (if you have to) to a younger up-and-comer?

I'm assuming not everyone gets tenure, so giving it to a guy on his way out (retirement/death) means someone else might not get it.

hombre said...

It would be best for all if West and his anti-Semitic support for Islamic terrorists over Israeli Jews remained among the SPs at Harvard where they can do no further harm. Somehow a seminary doesn’t seem a good fit, although this “seminary” doesn’t seem to have any particular faith “tradition.”

BADuBois said...

When Iraq and Iran went to war, Kissinger supposedly quipped, "It's a pity both sides can't lose."

My current thoughts exactly.

alfromchgo said...

He could be The Duke of Duke...

reference westside Chicago slang in 1970s

Churchy LaFemme: said...

Harvard's loss is Facebook's gain.

Harvard's loss is Union Theological Seminary's loss.

minnesota farm guy said...

Harvard should have thrown him out years ago.

Unknown said...

Why no tenure now? His research output, according to Google scholar, has been pathetic over the last 5 years. To the extent there’s any record, it is reprints of “conversations” and a speech. You award tenure in my view because of expected future accomplishments. Past accomplishments serve as evidence because we are unable to see the future.

Joe Smith said...

"We are just using one of the functions!"

Thanks for the heads-up...but it's a little weird.

Usually it's fixed by using Captcha, but Captcha doesn't even appear as an option.

But there are days where every click of the 'Publish' button goes to the 'broken blogger' page...

: )

gspencer said...

He would leave if he didn't get what he wanted.

"And everyone lived happily ever after."

Douglas B. Levene said...

At the end of the day, Harvard is a research university that gives tenure to scholars who produce important, original work. Fame and popular appeal are irrelevant. Writing books that sell millions of copies is irrelevant. So the question is, what is West’s original work? What papers or books has he written that advance in a rigorous way, well reasoned and supported by original research, new ideas, new ways of looking at things, new ideas about society? I’m not familiar with his body of work, so I can’t say, but those are the questions that Harvard is asking about West, just like it does about every other person seeking tenure at Harvard.

gspencer said...

"Cornel West is a 'public intellectual.'"

I think you meant, "Cornel West is a 'public nuisance.'"

Mike Sylwester said...

Cornel West is 67 years old.

The consideration about him should be retirement, not tenure.

Douglas B. Levene said...

A friend of mine, an economist at Chicago, says the main reason for tenure is to force faculties to make hard decisions about who’s doing great work. It’s a lot easier to just let them stay and before you know it, you have a faculty filled with people who are just average and everyone likes them and it’s impossible to get rid of them.

phantommut said...

Whatever else you may think of him, the dude has a sense of style.

Arashi said...

Maybe he is not as good at what he does as he thinks he is. Also, perhaps he just is not woke enough for the current times.

Perhaps he should learn to code. Maybe go have a beer and a podcast with 'the light-giver'. Maybe retire to obscurity and enjoy his filthy lucre. Maybe just go away and let a younger person have a job.

Sebastian said...

"will head to Union Theological Seminary in New York"

Seems like just the right place for him, considering that he prefers to preach the antiracism gospel instead of doing research.

Howard said...

The man is a Rock Star and is behaving as such. You people might change your opinion of Dr. West by watching his turn on the Joe Rogan podcast. West on socialism.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=iGeIElmCebQ

Mikey NTH said...

There's the possibility that there may be a clash of personalities - "public intellectuals" can be difficult prima donnas and after his last stint Harvard may have decided to skip all of the dramas.

hawkeyedjb said...

Dr. West
Mr. Summers
Mr. Bacow

Cornel West has been elevated, to share an honorific with Dr. Biden.

MadisonMan said...

He'd fit right in with the 88.

I have to think some've retired. As should West.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Krumhorn,

I truly don’t see the point of tenure. In the real world, people actually have to perform up to even a very low standard. Tenured professors at a state university with union protection don’t do fuck all.

Oh, horsepucky. I went to "a state university" (UC/Berkeley), and had coursework in two completely different fields, and the tenured faculty there were spectacular. And none of them slacked off, either. Ye Gods, George Pimentel in chemistry, Otto J. M. Smith in electrical engineering, Daniel Heartz and Richard Taruskin and Anthony Newcomb in musicology . . .)

Kai Akker said...

West graduated from Harvard undergrad magna cum laude, and seems to have done it in three years. Even if he skated a bit, that is not shabby. And Union Theological is a top divinity school. Super-liberal, so it was probably originally Episcopalian. Connected to Columbia U, it says. In his picture, he looks more like Bill Barr than Eldridge Cleaver. A biography of the family would probably be a great work of American studies. Unfortunately, Cornel seems to be entirely a creature of the late '60s, early '70s, when he went Marxist and never came back. Three divorces and the fourth marriage is given as 2016-18, to a female Jewish dentist. Fwiw!

Earnest Prole said...

Talk about burying the lede: Isn't the real news that for the first time in his life, West chose not to deploy the race card?

Tinderbox said...

I don't know which is funnier: that this clown can't get tenure, or that supporting Palestine is "taboo" in any Ivy League university.

Balfegor said...

I'm honestly sort of surprised he doesn't have tenure, given his prominence in public discourse. Maybe his colleagues don't care for his constant grandstanding?

Fernandinande said...

Bacow sounds like a sandwich.

Temujin said...

I've honestly never read any of his books. However, I've read a few of his articles, and listened to more than a few of his confusing commentaries as a talking head on the various networks. So it's possible I just never gave him a close enough listen or read to understand his greatness. But I've long considered him one of the most overhyped intellectuals of our time. A kind of a fraud. The kind we see so much of these days.

But then, I'm speaking mostly from my gut. I suspect he irritated enough of his colleagues with his professional grandstanding.

Gahrie said...

He literally accuses the Jews of conspiring against him, and can't understand why he doesn't get tenure?

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Re: West, I read Race Matters, back in the day, and remember very little about it. Union Theological Seminary might be a good fit for a man who calls every other man "Brother" and repeatedly boasts of his "prophetic" qualities.

I remember visiting professor Susan McClary (the gender-studies musicologist, on hand to give the Bloch Lectures that year) at Cal giving us a short passage of West to read. It was about philosophical pragmatism, and was, of course, calculated to instruct us callow grad students in the man's easy brilliance. But, then, both he and she were like that -- the first few weeks of that seminar were all Lyotard and Baudrillaud and Barthes and the like. After a while, when it became more explicitly feminist, I started calling it the "Ovular."

Francisco D said...

The Big Ten school that awarded me a Ph.D. had a very specific and mostly objective set of criteria for tenure in Psychology. It was a Research Tier1 university and awarded tenure based on original research as indicated in peer reviewed articles, books, grants and other activities.

Applicants were given points (slightly subjective) for their contributions to the field. If they did not reach a magical number in 5 years they were denied tenure. (If I recall correctly, 15 was the number).

That was the 1980's. I believe that grants have become far more important, but few people get tenure unless they meet the magic number. Did Cornel West ever meet the magic number that Harvard or other prestigious schools use?

Joe Smith said...

"West graduated from Harvard undergrad magna cum laude, and seems to have done it in three years. Even if he skated a bit, that is not shabby."

Yeah...and Barrack was head of the Harvard law review and yet published no articles.

His education records (grades, applications, etc.) are all sealed.

Excuse me for being skeptical of West's brilliance when affirmative action could account for the same result.

That's why affirmative action is so insidious; nobody can ever know if beneficiaries are frauds or not.

Joe Smith said...

"He literally accuses the Jews of conspiring against him, and can't understand why he doesn't get tenure?"

Ironic, as Harvard has historically conspired against Jews...

n.n said...

So, Harvard's refusal is not motivated by diversity. Baby steps.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Francisco D,

I don't know whether West hit the "magic number" or not, but I think the point at which Summers said "Enough is enough" was when West tried to include magazine articles and a rap album among his scholarly works.

Narr said...

Lots of tenure-commentary from people who don't know anything about it.

The tenure system is abused and gamed, just like any other system. It's what humans do. BION academic departments often have post-tenure review processes to keep people productive by whatever definition is used, and the never-does-a-lick tenured prof is a rarity in my experience. Academics are as prone to keeping up with the Joneses as they are to coasting, like anyone else and no more or less so.

As for West, he was bright enough to have a acquired a Ph.D. in philosophy from a big name institution before the rot was far advanced, and seems to be committed to his faith tradition. No doubt he'll find UTS more spiritually congenial than Princeton.

For my money, I'm less concerned with lazy, no-count tenured professors of subjects like theology or accounting than that professors of those subjects are often better paid than professors of real academic topics like History or Music.

Narr
Or German lit, or even PoliSci

MadTownGuy said...

Dietrich Bonhoeffer's opinion of Union Theological Seminary: "There is no theology here ... they (the students) talk a blue streak without the slightest substantive foundation and with no evidence of any criteria. The students ... are completely clueless with respect to what dogmatics is really about. They are unfamiliar with even the most basic questions. They become intoxicated with liberal and humanistic phrases, laugh at the fundamentalists, and yet basically are not even up to their level."

(From Wikipedia.)

Tomcc said...

I learned years ago that it's unwise to threaten your boss with quitting your job.
But that was in the milieu of the private sector where, you know, "they expect results".

daskol said...

Be a lot funnier if he landed at JTS.

Joe Smith said...

I learned years ago that it's unwise to threaten your boss with quitting your job.
But that was in the milieu of the private sector where, you know, "they expect results".


That's a good way to end up with a minimum wage of zero.

In all the jobs I ever worked, there was no place to hide and no dead wood.

Startups tend to be pretty efficient.

Lurker21 said...

Union Theological Seminary, where Bonhoeffer, Tillich and Niebuhr taught, is basically Columbia University -- it's not exactly the same thing but they are closely affiliated. An appointment there is nothing to sneeze at.

I don't have anything against West. I dig the rebel/hipster thing. True, you can get sick of it in students and baristas, but it's refreshing in a professor. Plus he's good friends with Robert George, a rather conservative Princeton professor.

But Harvard, Princeton, UTS, Harvard, UTS: we've heard this story before and it's starting to sound like musical chairs. West is already retired from Princeton, so the story is a little less significant than it was the first time.

Quaestor said...

Union is West's natural home.

UTS, where second-class minds earn first-class salaries for producing third-class work.

God may not exist. But He has a wicked sense of humor.

Joe Smith said...

"God may not exist. But He has a wicked sense of humor."

Maybe New Testament God.

Old Testament God did a lot of smiting : )

Matt said...

"Old Testament God did a lot of smiting"

Maybe I have a weird sense of humor, but I think the Book of Jonah is funny. The last chapter, where Jonah is sulking because God is too nice, is the funniest. God's instructions to Ezekiel about how he is to prophesy, especially the exchange between God and Ezekiel about eating food cooked with human excrement as fuel (Ezekiel 4), are also darkly funny.

Steven said...

"West said in an interview with The New York Times last week that he did not know why his request to be considered for a tenured post had been rebuffed..."

... but everybody with an above-room-temperature IQ understood it was because he was a spotlight-seeking diva with no actual research output.

Amadeus 48 said...

He could have been the Secretary of Love in an Al Sharpton administration.

Anyone who treats Al Sharpton as anything other than a hustler is not a serious person.

Hercules, not that one though said...

Owen: "My Work Here Is Done, Says Racist Ideologue On His Leaving Harvard."

I kinda did that. Worked for a bank. Up and quit. I thought, 'My Work Here Is Done'.

I had no idea there was tenure. There wasn't.

West was born at the sweetest of sweet spots in time. It was a time that rich, white Progressives wanted to 'diversify' the campus.

Free college and $80k per year as a stipend, so the diversity could fit in. It was an interesting experiment. I've watched it unfold. How'd it go?

Did it work? Cornell West was just one. Of all, Did it work?

Narr said...

A lousy school of theology reminds me of the old fraternity joke about the pledge who was told he had to screw a pig, and chose the ugliest one.

How does one rank schools of theology? Is there a USN&WR ranking system?

Narr
What's the latest from the frontiers of theological research?

The Godfather said...

I have no personal knowledge, but if he's not woke enough for Bacow, then he ain't woke. So I'm inclined in his favor.

wildswan said...

Is West woke enough for Harvard tenure?
West wrote a book with Sylvia Hewlett in 1999 on how society wasn't properly supporting parents. (The War Against Parents: What We Can Do for America's Beleaguered Moms and Dads; https://www.amazon.com/War-Against-Parents-Cornel-West/dp/0395957974/ref=pd_sim_b_title_5) Below is a review from the Amazon site by someone who liked the book in 2005. The last sentence is: "... [West and Hewlett] argue for the importance of religion and parent-in-charge strategies in regards to child rearing, voting, and generally participating in society."
"Religion and parent-in-charge" are important? Come, come. Dr. West. Surely, you can't expect Harvard to give tenure to someone with a BadThink past like that.

The War Against Parents - a review
Reviewed in the United States on November 14, 2005
If you are one of the politically hard-over types --left or right-- don't bother buying this book. This book is really for the open minded reader who is looking for an analytical and cautious approach to what ails us as a nation.

Systematically Cornell and Hewlett do that. They look at what worked in the past (when families seemed to be working for adults and children), and how that has changed to get us where we are today (latch key kids, high child suicide rates, high pregnancy rates). They point fingers at the far left and at the far right. They look at myth and truth and how often it is hard to discern which is which.

Some reviewers say they are liberal. Perhaps. But not so it matters. They certainly don't find much good to say about the programs of LBJ's Great Society, nor liberal divorce policies. Plus they argue for the importance of religion and parent-in-charge strategies in regards to child rearing, voting, and generally participating in society.

Josephbleau said...

"Harvard's loss is Union Theological Seminary's loss."

I am reminded of an incident where a certain professor accepted a position at another University, thusly increasing the average IQ of the professoriate of both.

Krumhorn said...

Oh, horsepucky. I went to "a state university" (UC/Berkeley), and had coursework in two completely different fields, and the tenured faculty there were spectacular. And none of them slacked off, either.

That may have been in a decidedly different...and distant... decade from the present. You certainly named some extraordinarily remarkable musicologists. That is not typical. I have a current up close look at CA state university faculty who earn a full-time wage and benefits job and do not do even a half time job. And what they do is grudging at best. This has been particularly highlighted during the current state of affairs where they are teaching online with learning management platforms that, in general, they have generally made no effort to navigate competently, leave alone master.

When it comes to university service, they hide behind the trees when committees have to be filled or pick committees that meet less often than once a semester and with no real responsibility.

When it comes to publishing, it's an appalling performance complete with bitching about release time (that they don't use for publishing in any event).

Seriously! It's a gub'ment sinecure with outstanding benefits and retirement, and you can't be fired except for being caught on camera with your hand up a girl's skirt.

None of these are Newcomb, Taruskin, or Heartz, two of whom are probably hearing celestial music.

- Krumhorn

SGT Ted said...

Cornell is a leftwing crackpot who happens to be black. I'm surprised he doesn't have tenure already.

Josephbleau said...


"None of these are Newcomb, Taruskin, or Heartz, two of whom are probably hearing celestial music.

- Krumhorn"

Within the past 12 years I have completed an MS and PhD (yet to see commencement) from great public schools (why? because my employer will pay and I like Banach Space). Tenured faculty were all engaged, energetic, ehh a few, and competent. I was/am an older student but have high respect for STEM faculty. Do you think academics at great state U's are slugs? no, they are hard working folks who are workaholics.

Narr said...

Ambitious, hard-driving young faculty get tenure, and then use the fact of tenure as ammo when they seek another and better job-- "Hey, I'm giving up tenure here, you better sweeten the pot!" I saw it done just as often, or more often, as I saw the post-tenure slacker.

But not to worry, tenure won't survive the coming collapse.

Narr
And you can see how well it protects unpopular views

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Krumhorn,

You're right, of course: Tony died in 2018, Dan (my own advisor) last year. Taruskin is still with us, fighting the good fight.

Pimentel and Smith are also gone. But this shows only that I was in school from the mid-80s to the mid-90s. Of course the faculty I loved are mostly dead. I'm now older than Taruskin was when I was floating around the Cal Music Department as a clueless undergraduate.

What I'm saying is that "unionized state school" is a hell of a big pot into which to pour all the faculty you don't like much.

The Crack Emcee said...

It could be because I can listen to him speak for an hour and know I got nothing out of it. Barack Obama's got that down, as well. Oprah cashed-in on that as surely as she did Deepak Chopra. That so few noticed, at the time, still boggles the mind: a light will shine down and the oceans will lower?

Good stuff - if you're religious and stupid.

Jack Klompus said...

When was the last time West produced a single piece of original research?