Harvard Declines to Consider Cornel West for Tenure (Updated)


Cornel West is threatening to leave his position at Harvard University following a decision by university officials to not honor his request that he be considered for tenure, according to The Boston Globe.

West’s current position is as a nontenured professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy, with appointments in the Harvard Divinity School and the Harvard Department of African and African American Studies.

West’s current appointment at Harvard began in 2017. He had a position at Harvard previously but left the position in 2002 following a dispute with then-president Larry Summers. In the intervening years he held positions at Princeton University and Union Theological Seminary.

According to The Globe, West said Harvard offered him an endowed chair with a  10-year contract and a pay raise, but that the failure to consider him for tenure is a dealbreaker. “It is once again this issue of just not putting up with being disrespected,” he told The Globe.

UPDATE (3/8/21): West today announced that he is leaving Harvard to take up a position at Union Theological Seminary in New York, according to The Boston Globe.

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Histrionics
Histrionics
5 months ago

He’s 67 and his 10-year contract is worth millions – possibly more than a faculty member at a public institution would earn in an entire career. He can cry me a river.Report

Rev Dr Lucretia Mann
Rev Dr Lucretia Mann
Reply to  Histrionics
5 months ago

You miss the point.Report

Gregory Martin
Gregory Martin
Reply to  Rev Dr Lucretia Mann
5 months ago

Yes, completely!Report

A. Jouis
A. Jouis
Reply to  Histrionics
5 months ago

The issue is not money, as proven by his refusal, but tenure, it’s about values and the possibility of exercising pressure to get the employer to meet them, visibly there is something that prevents Harvard from meeting Dr West on his field, probably linked to other problems around censorship of leftwing academia from higher positions since everything is political but some things are more political than othersReport

Steven Goode
Steven Goode
Reply to  Histrionics
5 months ago

I am sure you can’t see your own bias view. Let me help you out just a little. While you are waiting for a river to appear in front of you, please don’t forgot that an ocean is a great deal larger and a lot more water. Some where in this conversation you might actually compare the wealthiest University in the world to a public university. The pay scale can never be compared. In fact, you seem to know what tenure is all about. Perhaps what you are really saying is that you don’t believe professor West should be paid like the other white professors.Report

Eric Hancock
Eric Hancock
5 months ago

An intellectual giant – in terms of #s of readers and cultural influence – asks for respect but the comments here are “shut up and take what’s offered.” Seems not to matter that a black man’s talent isn’t sport: he’s still just a black man.Report

Lamar
Lamar
Reply to  Eric Hancock
5 months ago

Nice comment Eric. I agree as a black man. Sadly, Dr. West is being undercut and disrespected. Even with all the lies and mendacity from Epstein’s lawyer- and Trump’s legal counsel, Alan Dershowitz continues to teach constitutional law at Harvard, and is tenured. HaReport

Barbara Ginther
Barbara Ginther
Reply to  Eric Hancock
5 months ago

West deserves tenure and respect. Regardless, nothing’s going to change the love and respect we’ve had for such a fearless, giant of a character for decades. He’s an independent thinker with the nerve to speak his mind. Brilliant mind.Report

Alexus McLeod
Alexus McLeod
Reply to  Eric Hancock
5 months ago

Yes indeed. This is pretty much always how it goes for us, sadly.Report

Veronica Price
Veronica Price
Reply to  Alexus McLeod
5 months ago

I agree with you and am a witness to the subjectivity applied to the decision not to tenure this great gifted and talented scholar, Dr. Cornel West! I am educated up the wa-zoo, 3 Masters degrees and a Doctoral degree. Yet I have met countless rejections and road blocks in my attempts to climb the ladder of success. Sometimes I placate myself by internalizing the belief that I have not succeeded because this is the station where God wants me at any particular given time. Regardless of how I have tried to make myself accept this reasoning, I have felt and still do feel that I have been cheated out of my rightful place and position. Of course, I have contributed my perception to racism and prejudice by those in power, usually Whites. I fear that Dr. West has fallen prey to the same.

Rev. Dr. Veronica PriceReport

Sasha
Sasha
5 months ago

Cornel West is a voice of sanity in this nation. He says what our politicians dont want to hear. Harvard doesn’t want to honor his positions. Report

Marie
Marie
5 months ago

Give the man tenure. He deserves it.Report

C
C
5 months ago

I hope this doesn’t derail the conversation, but I’m sort of wondering about the criteria for giving someone tenure who seems to primarily do public philosophy. I have to admit that I’m not familiar with West’s work (it is not anywhere close to my research area), but it seems to me that he is primarily a public-facing philosopher, with no published articles in good generalist journals, and a single article in Ethics (I’m just looking at his website and philpapers—maybe some publications have been left off). The majority of his work is in books, many of which seem to be public-facing. Of course, he has been very culturally influential, and I take it that many people think he is doing socially valuable work—are these sufficient reasons to grant someone tenure at an R1? I’m pretty sure that if I were to only/primarily do public philosophy, regardless of its social value or quality, there is no way I would get a job at an R1, let alone tenure. In other words, it doesn’t seem too crazy to me that Harvard didn’t grant West tenure, though I admit the tenure-granting process is obscure to me.Report

Ayisha Jeffries
Reply to  C
5 months ago

He was tenured previouslyReport

Dr. Sandra Thompson
Dr. Sandra Thompson
Reply to  C
5 months ago

Are you Cornel West? Not many people on this earth can stand with the genius of Cornel West. I have not always agreed with his position on some issues, but I can not but humbly thank him for his life of service, which in total is more than any of us will write in a life time.Report

JDF
JDF
5 months ago

I *suspect* that Harvard might not wish to make a tenured offer because there is no mandatory retirement age. Whereas the limited-term offer represents a maximum ten year commitment, a tenured offer could represent a twenty year commitment. I know that they’ve offered all their faculty near retirement age incentives to retire early in response to the pandemic.

Without commenting on this particular case, it is worth considering how the lack of a mandatory retirement age for tenured faculty shapes the composition of faculty in various philosophy departments and in the university. I realize that discussions of this issue tend to devolve quickly and that they are in some sense pointless because legally impotent, but it strikes me as an important issue when thinking about the future of the profession.Report

Jon Light
Jon Light
5 months ago

What’s the messaging from this to junior scholars and unemployed philosophers? A 10-year endowed position at *Harvard*, coupled with a pay raise, and that’s not going to work because there’s no tenure? Which, by the way, comparatively few Harvard faculty have anyway. For someone who could probably end up going wherever else he wants later anyway? The value of his 10-year package could probably hire 30 post-docs. I get that one narrative is to say Harvard is “racist” here, but come on: is that really the best way to look at this? The fact that this is the second time he’s ragequit Harvard also seems relevant.Report

Dr. Sandra Thompson
Dr. Sandra Thompson
Reply to  Jon Light
5 months ago

In this America, yes we must look at what this says about Dr. Cornel West and what he represents to millions, maybe not all, but to me and more of my hue Harvard action is a slap in the face. Not a good look Harvard.Report

Matthew Capps
Matthew Capps
Reply to  Dr. Sandra Thompson
5 months ago

This way of thinking seems analogous to the kind of thinking that celebrated OJ getting acquitted and that celebrated Trump’s various political victories:

He is not an individual whose situation ought to be judged on its own merit, he is an emblem of my tribe, and anyone who is loyal to my tribe must be loyal to him.Report

Steve Moyer
Steve Moyer
Reply to  Matthew Capps
5 months ago

Loyalty is a virtue when it is loyalty TO virtue. Loyalty to an idea or an individual is not a virtue. The proper application of virtue is to itself.

Virtue.nodes.netReport

Last edited 5 months ago by Steve Moyer
A. Jouis
A. Jouis
Reply to  Matthew Capps
5 months ago

when the system prevents situations being judged for their own merits (i.e. systemic biases against black defendants) it cannot be argued that loyalty to tribe is above loyalty to justice when tribe is defended since justice is unknowable in any case (the tampering of evidence in OJ’s case is well known) during the course of the event.Report

Matthew Capps
Matthew Capps
Reply to  A. Jouis
5 months ago

I don’t intend the aim of my response to be any facts about Trump or OJ. Regardless of the facts about those cases, they represent (for different constituencies) examples of the attitude I invoked.

If we are to factor in systemic injustice, then we must do so explicitly. To handwave and say ‘systemic injustice’ is not to provide a reason for anything that purportedly addresses systemic injustice. So: yes, group affiliation may be relevant to the case, but it is not the ruling principle. Justice is the ruling principle.

Our inability to know with certainty doesn’t excuse us from examining the reasons we do have, nor from aiming at justice/virtue.Report

A. Jouis
A. Jouis
Reply to  Matthew Capps
5 months ago

I am not making normative claims, there is nothing addressed here, it is nonetheless unfair to descriptively declare them as preferring tribe over justice since the whole thing (again in OJ’s case) is predicated upon the absence of reliability of the judicial system, and so of the reliability of facts, it is not tribe over justice but tribe over nothing. Now normatively I agree with you but to examine reasons and aim for justice implies that there is the possibility of choice, that the situation is clarifiable, to me it is clearly not in the case in a variety of situations, where only descriptive claims can then be laid out, I would say we are currently in that phase for Dr’s West controversy until more facts come outReport

Last edited 5 months ago by A. Jouis
Matthew Capps
Matthew Capps
Reply to  A. Jouis
5 months ago

Ok, I think I agree with you largely.

Two points of departure might be (a) what each of us is assuming about the evidential standard of surpassing or not surpassing ‘reasonable doubt,’ (b) what attitudes are justifiable if a normative conclusion surpassing reasonable doubt is not possible.

If I understand, you think that if a normative conclusion surpassing reasonable doubt is not possible, then it is justifiable to take one’s tribe as the ruling normative principle, whereas I think (and here we are getting into metaethics) that something contingent is never a ruling normative principle. I would always subordinate them to a universal. .Report

A. Jouis
A. Jouis
Reply to  Matthew Capps
5 months ago

You’re basically on point with my argument, you can even argue that there is a double contingency since it is because the tribe criteria is linked to the reasonable doubt, let’s say through a colour biased judicial system, that makes it acceptable to choose this criteria, not only does normative conclusions have to not be within reasonable doubt but the tribal conclusion has to be within reasonable doubt. I am a big relativist though so probably not that surprising that we disagree on universal principles.Report

Byron Moore
Byron Moore
Reply to  Jon Light
5 months ago

There is no other way to look at it! One of worst forms of racism is to criticize individuals who know their worth, which is measured by respect more so than money. You know where you stand with an individual or an institution when they withhold what is important to them and try to appease you with what they believe SHOULD be important to you!Report

Matthew Capps
Matthew Capps
Reply to  Byron Moore
5 months ago

You are begging the question. What’s at issue is whether Dr. West is worthy of the tenured position (which he may well be, for all I know), given the opportunity cost to Harvard.Report

Sonji
Reply to  Byron Moore
5 months ago

Well said… we can apply this to a people as well. When folks dont know their story.. folks would have them vibrating low thinking that is what they are worth. Worthy of so much more we are. Peace. S.Report

Gregory Martin
Gregory Martin
Reply to  Jon Light
5 months ago

Again, another one who has missed the point! It’s not about the money as you point out, he could go anywhere he wants, and get paid. Harvard, “racist?”, after 400 years, we won’t go there! If you don’t think he deserves tenure, you don’t respect who he is, just like the institution of Harvard. RESPECT! Get it yet?Report

kitty
kitty
5 months ago

I totally agree with Jon Light and Histrionics. Many of our colleagues are overworked, underpaid, and in insecure positions. Further degrading university working conditions by extending the misery to our colleagues in more secure positions is only reasonable! How dare people fight for tenure when tenure as an institution is dying!

I also agree with C. I’m eager to defend the status quo come time for the 20th annual round of philosophy blog posts along the lines of “99.9% of philosophy articles are garbage nobody reads or cares about but we publish it anyway because that’s apparently what this job is now. Should this really be what we do as philosophers? Can philosophy as a discipline be something else?”

I had to suffer so everyone should have to suffer at least as much as me!Report

O.M.
O.M.
5 months ago

This is certainly disrespect for one of the foremost public intellectuals of our time – and that is true whether or not one agrees with his positions on any given matter. If Prof. West cannot get tenure for this particular endowed chair, who *would* be eligible?

Moreover: this has nothing to do with the very real plight of precariously employed and poorly paid junior academics. (I’m one such academic myself, though it should not matter to the point I’m making.)Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
5 months ago

I don’t know anything about Harvard’s tenure procedure in particular, but if it’s like any other University I know, the award of tenure won’t be in the unilateral gift of the senior administration. Normally for a senior hire, the hiring department will put together a dossier and then that will go to a committee of people from a mix of different subjects across arts/sciences, and they’ll make a judgement that’s largely based on academic research productivity and quality, and doesn’t give much allowance for non-scholarly outputs. Usually this would be a formality for a senior hire (in the sense that it’s obvious they’ll pass, not that it’s not taken seriously). But in this case I’d give at least some credence to the possibility that Harvard isn’t sure that West will pass the process and doesn’t want to risk greater embarrassment by putting him up for tenure and then having it rejected. (I don’t give much credence to the possibility that Harvard’s just trying to save money, not with a case this high-profile.)

This is purely descriptive; I’m not making any normative comment about the tenure process or about this case.Report

JDF
JDF
5 months ago

To David Wallace:

I don’t see why you doubt the financial incentive. As far as I know from people who have been made such offers, Harvard has offered incentives to everyone near retirement age to get them to retire earlier than they otherwise would in response to the pandemic. This includes all sorts of big names in various fields. My sense is that the offer went to anyone over 60, though I might be wrong about the precise age. Given this background, the offer of a ten-year fixed-term position is already going very much against the grain. Since the chair is endowed, the funding for this position would not come out of the general FAS budget, which seems to be the hardest hit. Still, the attempt to reduce costs is university-wide, from what I know.

I also don’t see that the worry about the tenure process makes sense. If that was the concern, Harvard could just make the offer without a term limit but without tenure. There are all sorts of positions there which are indefinitely renewable conditional on adequate teaching. Clearly, there is no condition on the endowed chair that the holder be tenured. (I can’t see the Globe article, so I am assuming that the position is non-renewable. If it is renewable, your worry makes more sense, though I still think the financial worry about an indefinite commitment weighs more heavily than you do.)Report

Tony Chopkoski
Tony Chopkoski
5 months ago

West has always proved himself the great escape artist from reality. It shows in his work. So, packing up in the din of spread sorrow, he does show that the peripatetic modal is his best suit. Sortof hip-hop not for the ages.Report

Fritz McDonald
Fritz McDonald
5 months ago

Louis F. Cooper points out that Professor West previously held a tenured position at Harvard. It seems odd to me, if this is true, that Harvard didn’t offer him the opportunity of a tenured position the second time they hired him. David Wallace rightly says that typical procedure is to have some kind of tenure review when making a senior hire. If he was granted tenure at Harvard in the past, why wouldn’t his tenure file go through the second time Harvard hired him? Does anyone know if Professor West was tenured at Princeton or Union Theological Seminary?Report

Luis Miron
Luis Miron
5 months ago

Harvard’s apparent decision to disqualify Professor West from tenure is disheartening, if not disingenuous. Many top-tier universities often grant tenure for non-research positions such as professors of ‘practice.’

For example at the University of California Irvine and Berkeley, where I taught , long-standing traditions of hiring senior lecturers with Security of Employment (tenure) recognized the public value of employing scholars who had vast impacts on society-at-large, extending far beyond the Academy.

Dr. Cornel West is undoubtedly such a scholar. His international repute as a public intellectual is beyond question. By recognizing his reputation with an endowed chair, yet withholding tenure, Harvard seems to want it both ways. But it can’t have its cake and eat it, too.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
5 months ago

@JDF: sure, possibly I’m too quick about the financial issue.
@Fritz McDonald: suppose (to take an extreme hypothetical case) that someone got tenure and then subsequently published literally nothing for a decade. If they moved away and tried to come back, I’d expect they’d be quite likely to be denied tenure. Tenure isn’t a prize, it’s an assessment that somebody is sufficiently likely to go on producing sufficiently valuable work throughout their career that they’re worth granting tenure protections to. Subsequent evidence might demonstrate that assessment was incorrect. You can’t rescind tenure on that basis, but you might well choose not to grant it again if circumstances grant you a do-over. (This is without prejudice to Cornel West’s specific case.)Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
5 months ago

@Luis Miron: yes, some universities permit tenure on the basis of non-research activities. But I’m fairly sure (having just had a quick look at their online resources) that Harvard isn’t one of them. And it probably won’t be in the power of the senior admin to do an ad hoc change to the tenure criteria to address a specific case.Report

Bill Wolfe
Bill Wolfe
5 months ago

I sense irony. I watched Cornel West’s on-line Yale class on WEB DuBois. West noted critically how DuBois, early in his career, looked to please white scholars and institutions, looking for respect and credibility, only to be disappointed. Not until DuBois matured as a confident black scholar did he realize the error of his ways. It seems like Dr. West also is looking to Harvard and white institutions for “respect” and almost legitimation. Am I wrong here? West should walk and be proud of it.Report

Fritz McDonald
Fritz McDonald
5 months ago

Wallace This would not seem to be that hypothetical case you mention. The people at Harvard, by their own actions, seem to think West is going to do enough valuable work in the future to be worthy of a presumably lucrative 10 year contract. Report

A.P.H
A.P.H
5 months ago

The fact that most of Prof. West’s work is public facing seems to me largely irrelevant since Harvard has granted tenure to other profs who have since devoted most of their time to being public intellectuals such as Michael Sandel. Indeed, it seems to me that tenure for more “public facing” academics is actually a very good thing since we clearly do need qualified people who can bridge the gap between academic and public discourses. This being said, given West’s age I’m reluctant to agree that the package he was offered is “disrespectful” to a scholar of his stature. West is currently 67 years old so his endowed chair would last until he was 77. Although academics have a reputation for working longer before retiring compared to other white-collar professionals, most still seem to retire by 75 at the latest (though there are exceptions here and there). To offer West literally the most prestigious type of position a university can offer an academic (an endowed chair) on a long-term contract that will last until he is several years past the age most academics retire at hardly seems to be a slight against him or an indication of racist bias on the part of Harvard. The more likely explanations for why he was not granted a tenure review are (1) he would not have passed this review given his peer-reviewed output unless Harvard made an ad-hoc (and in this sense unfair) exception to its own tenure policies or (2) Harvard, which has suffered financial setbacks from Covid just like every other University, would rather utilize its financial resources to offer tenure to a younger academic who is very likely to have *several* productive decades ahead of them, rather than a Prof who may, given their advanced age, only work full time for 7-8 or so more years before ‘informally retiring’ by doing the bare minimum to meet their obligations to the university while still drawing their full salary for many more years (not saying this would happen in Dr. West’s case, but you do see this happen with academics fairly often). Report

Louis F. Cooper
Louis F. Cooper
5 months ago

I’ve had some technical problems posting comments here today, but now (off the phone and on the laptop) I hope this goes through.

1) Jon Light: I don’t know what you mean by the statement that Harvard has “comparatively few” tenured faculty. The Faculty of Arts & Sciences alone has hundreds of tenured faculty. (You can probably find the exact number online somewhere.)

2) David Wallace: if the ad hoc committee (or whatever it’s called) were to say no to West’s tenure bid, the president of the univ. could override their judgment — that’s my impression, at any rate. In the ordinary course of things it doubtless never happens, but this is not really an ordinary case.

3) Which gets to the point that several comments have raised or been circling around: West doesn’t produce a lot of traditional scholarship (at least, I don’t think so), though one or two of his early books were in that category. This was tied up with his publicized “dispute” with Summers, which has been referred to here obliquely. But here’s the thing: Harvard is a big, powerful, prestigious, wealthy (despite its current financial issues) university, and it can find a way to make exceptions to rules and criteria when it really wants to. The world of traditional scholarship won’t coming crashing to a halt if one person whose work is not in the standard tenure-criteria mold has a tenured position in the Faculty of Arts & Sciences, and nor will Harvard’s reputation suffer any lasting damage. Report

A.P.H
A.P.H
5 months ago

@Louis F. Cooper. There is a potential problem with making “exceptions to [the] rules and criteria” regarding tenure though. When a university like Harvard consistently adheres to clear, transparent guidelines regarding the kind of scholarly output that is required for tenure, it enables them to defend their decisions to justifiably deny/grant tenure in cases where there is political pressure put on them to reverse their decision (e.g. the case of Dr. Lorgia García Peña), and more importantly, it allows others to hold them accountable when they grant/deny tenure to individuals for inappropriate reasons. But once you start making exceptions based on the public stature of the academic in question, it becomes harder for the tenure review criteria to serve these two aforementioned functions. Of course, this is not to say that Harvard’s tenure criteria are correct; perhaps there should be substantially more weight allocated to the kind of public contributions Dr.West has made throughout his life. However, this should occur through a formal change to Harvard’s tenure review process, not through ad hoc interventions in the assessments of particular tenure files. Report

Dr. Anthony R. Watson
Dr. Anthony R. Watson
5 months ago

I strongly believe that Dr. West should leave the Ivy League schools alone, and teach at a HBCU. Most of the HBCU’s would benefit greatly from him on their faculty, especially the students. Report

Dr. Judy Williams, PhD
Dr. Judy Williams, PhD
5 months ago

I concur with Dr. Anthony R. Watson…Report

Patricia Pocock
Patricia Pocock
5 months ago

Explain “tenure” ! Prof. West is a brilliant academic; he can go anywhere.Report

Susan
Susan
5 months ago

This is a very bad reflection of Harvard. Dr. West is a national treasure.Report

SG
SG
5 months ago

I like West a lot. I think he does a lot of good for the world…
…but if this were anyone else, consider the fact pattern:

1. Philosophy PhD takes a series of academic appointments in non-philosophy (theology, African American studies, etc) departments.
2. Gains an appointment as a tenured professor at Harvard.
3. Leaves Harvard voluntarily because of an interpersonal conflict with then Harvard president who criticized him for not producing academic scholarship appropriate to someone with his appointment.
4. After another series of academic appointments in non-philosophy fields, where the vast bulk of his writing is either public-facing, not within the confines of an academic discipline, or co-authored, returns to Harvard in an expressly non-tenure track non-tenured appointment, where he continues to work in the mode of a public intellectual rather than someone who regularly publishes in the top journals or academic presses appropriate to his PhD field or department (did he have a department?)
5. Said public intellectual is not considered for tenure on request from his non-tenure track limited appointment at an institution that he left because, post-tenure, he was upset at being told that he wasn’t producing the kind of scholarship expected of a tenured professor at that institution.

If this wasn’t Cornel West it’s hard for me to read those facts and think that some great injustice has been done.

Normally people don’t get tenure for the kind of work Cornel West does – they don’t necessarily need it since it’s a lucrative base for independent wealth.

People with tenure get away with focusing on public-facing projects rather than the scholarship that would be necessary to get awarded tenure in the first place and can rely on their security of tenure…but almost no one gives that up to take a non-tenured appointment – if they do at that point, it seems odd that they’d have the expectation of being awarded tenure again.

Finally, people who take non-tenure track appointments, no matter how eminent they are among the public at large, are by definition signing up for a job where there is no expectation that they’d be considered for tenure (and doing so would be extraordinary, not within the norms).

John Kerry teaches at Yale. He’s a “Distinguished Fellow”, not a tenured or tenure track professor – his highly influential profile is more than good enough for an appointment at an elite university, but it doesn’t make him an automatically tenured professor. If John Kerry asked for tenure, pointing to his many non-academic books, and was denied (as he would be), would anyone think that his public intellectual influence is such that this would be an outrage?Report

Kev
Kev
5 months ago

Well, frankly, he’s not very professorial in his demeanor, but that’s never seemed the issue… The issue is he’s just as liable to call out the left as the right, and Harvard just can’t have that.Report

Louis F. Cooper
Louis F. Cooper
5 months ago

@A.P.H. above:
You make good points; I’ll think about them.Report

Eric
Eric
5 months ago

Dozens of very, very good scholars and intellectuals are turned down at all Ivy League Univs every year. Who among all the responders here was privy to the lengthy discussions about Dr. West’s tenure consideration? We need transcripts and other related data to make a fair determination about their decision.Report

Louis F. Cooper
Louis F. Cooper
Reply to  Eric
5 months ago

There were no lengthy discussions and there was no “decision” b/c there was no tenure process. (That’s the whole issue this thread has been about.)Report

James murphyphyhy
James murphyphyhy
5 months ago

Some years ago I served on the faculty there and am aware of the history of the University structure all the way back to Dr Conant and the evolution of the various component schools and their financial structures and independence of each . What interactions between him and the great economical force Sommers occured I am unaware or the lingering influences therefrom fo)lowing that period. but I do know LS left himself under less than full faculty support during his administration. IT is sugnifigant that Prif West has broad popular exposure and is a public figure of wide note ,though I am unaware of his research breadth ,as viewed by his contemporaries, but assume it to be significantly robust. His creative life at his age may decline or exhaust following a ten year period. Who can predict? Sixty seven is senior as of now but who knows .Professor Dr. Brady of backfield science at 43 is not emeritus yet, no armchairs on the horizon in sight by all appearances and his passing may proceed into the end of eight or ninth decade if tenured and as long as he can avoid the incoming colossus attacking gangs facing him or he reaches the turf unscathed. Is this simply a penurious top administrative tightening of the purse against later life declinene in output, or a targeted slight by forces in a position to do so ,without sharing precisely motivations?
In any case it will be iteresting. Who knows if the fiery temper and electrified hair might up in an animated blaze of epic protest. Perhaps this is Dr Wests late life instruction and exercise in humility by the clock master of the academic universe , a necessary adjustment of the universal academic clocktower mechanism..Thank the higher power we are in America , in China he would be provided with a hoe and directed to a field where to apply its use ! The worst that can happen here is to remove the.lecturn and the amplification of the sound system and open his vision to other options.Report

Mindy Percival
Mindy Percival
5 months ago

If this BRILLIANT man is not offered tenure the whole system is askew. And it is. 80% of American intellectuals now without tenure. Most professors are now adjuncts and living in poverty. While Dr West is probably not in such dire circumstance he is correct in saying one must HALT THE DISRESPECT. I had to leave a community college (Started at Columbia) after 8 yrs because ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. Dr. West you’re a hero of mine. You “on one side of a log and me on the other” is my idea of an ideal education!
Most admirably, Dr. Mindy A Percival.Report

Renee Walker
Renee Walker
5 months ago

I took a mid-career fellowship at princeton that included the opportunity to join a class taught by professor west. At the time princeton did not accept transfer students, so I was curious about the potential for seamless movement into the ivy league by my gifted students with generic public school credentials. The absence of such students was obvious in west’s class.

Ironically, the public-facing reputation so often projected onto west more accurately
reflects his discomfort about the social change evident among the post-covid-19 ivy league enrollments from public places even he considers substandard. In this light his demand for tenure protections may be nothing more than acknowledgment that the coming newbys are not his people.

These are not the fast-tracked progeny of politicians, celebrities, & athletes, but rather students who had to earn their grades one class at a time. So they are less likely to swallow the popular if nontraditional philosophies that went unchallenged by acadenic administrators whose eyes were on their own prized advancement.

Tenure can only forestall, like the dark money of an endowed chair, or the allure of a long term performance contract, the inevitable reckoning due educational environments whose research interests are confined to ties that bind familiars.Report

Prof L
Prof L
Reply to  Renee Walker
5 months ago

Hmmm. Another way of putting this, if I’m reading this correctly, is that he’s afraid he’ll be the casualty of the coming groupthink, so he wants tenure. Isn’t that what tenure is for?

Also, anyone who thinks that the “social change” and “reckoning” we see at these elite institutions is being driven by the hard-working underclasses isn’t really paying attention.Report

Renee Walker
Renee Walker
Reply to  Prof L
5 months ago

I doubt from my direct professional experience with the man that west is afraid of anything. Rather what I observed about his character when he invited me to interact with him at princeton was that as much as one can seek to teach a lesson whether or not it is received is influenced by the environment in which it is imparted.

I don’t think west could ever be a casualty of groupthink. He is classically an independent thinker…always has been. And he was called to rise from the rough side of the mountain. So his prescience about the need now for tenure is not borne of fear or reticence.

He thrives when challenged. His charge to harvard is strictly one borne of being in tune with that beloved academy’s need to reconcile what it has been with what it is, & what it can become. West’s willingness to negotiate his place either there or elsewhere in what is inevitable social change is to his credit. Harvard’s response is their’s to absorb.

And by the way anyone who has done more than simply hug society’s sidelines knows that playing hard & following the rules changes everything & is its own reward.Report

LCS
LCS
Reply to  Renee Walker
5 months ago

Completely agree. The original battle, as I recall it, was over what was to count as proper academic scholarship. West (a) wanted hip hop to be understood as political philosophy and (b) recorded a CD to illustrate. Battle ensued. In some venues West won this battle: there are courses and volumes on Hip Hop and Philosophy. But what it looks like to me is that he wants to come back to win at Harvard. This battle has broader implications over the nature of philosophical research and the legitimation of public philosophy. It’s definitely an interesting battle. Here’s a short piece in the New York from 2001. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2001/08/20/cornel-west-busts-a-rhymeReport

Renee Walker
Renee Walker
Reply to  LCS
5 months ago

TY for elaborating on why west is “controversial” to some. But I need not read short pieces from pedestrian mainstream tomes to know that the essence of west’s genius is to strike at the heart of western philosophic exclusivity in ways that spread dis-ease throughout the academy.

However, the caution from even empathetic academics who are on his side is that if they can see the weaknesses inherent in using this particular genre to broaden the scope of acceptable academic scholarship so should he. In this regard west’s uncritical embrace of the hip hop phenomenon is legion.

That’s not to say that he specifically is to blame for the extant intersectionality that makes it impossible now to accept any additions to the canon that favor one breed of human over the other. None- theless, hip hop’s inbred gender biases are cannon fodder to any self-respecting scholar who intends to speak truth to power.

Therefore, it’s easier & more strategic to just punt when someone like west who knows better but who has a proven track record among hungry, marginalized groups seeks admission to a well established, renowned, & respected club.

For those sitting in departmental armchairs soft as a baby’s butt there is nothing to lose among the rest of the petit bourgeoisie & everything to gain among the status quo. Win-win. Game over.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
5 months ago

@Louis F. Cooper:

Be careful what you wish for. Yes, probably it’s true that the President of Harvard has the formal power to overrule tenure recommendations. But do you really want to set the precedent that this power will be used in practice? As A.P.H. says, it’s a dangerous path to walk.Report

Jonathan
Jonathan
Reply to  David Wallace
5 months ago

The President of Harvard overrules departments not-infrequently. He or she convenes an exogenous ad hoc committee and then decides what to do. Many people put up by departments have been turned down in the past. This entire conversation would benefit from more background knowledge about how tenure works at Harvard and elsewhere and what a Professorship of the Practice is.Report

Jonathan
Jonathan
5 months ago

The title is misleading. It should be “Harvard declines to create a tenured line for Cornel West.” He is Professor of the Practice, a position with all or more of the salary and glory of a tenured position and fewer of the teaching and service requirements (and yes absent the employment for life thing). Professorships of the Practice have a separate place on the organizational chart from a ladder faculty position. You can’t just create a tenured position out of thin air. There’s a process, and there are expectations for those who hold them.Report

Robert A Gressis
Robert A Gressis
Reply to  Jonathan
5 months ago

Jonathan, can you say more about “There’s a process, and there are expectations for those who hold them”? What’s the process, and what are the expectations?

Incidentally, do you know if any other professor at Harvard is both a Professor of the Practice and tenured?Report

Jonathan
Jonathan
Reply to  Robert A Gressis
5 months ago

I don’t know of any tenured Professors of the Practice at Harvard. It’s not inconceivable, but the two categories are almost always exclusive. The process would include the university creating or using an existing line– by petition from a department or departments, or in consultation with them– soliciting letters, votes from relevant departments, convening an ad hoc, voting etc. All of which could happen in this or related cases, but there’s no expectation (or I’d suspect much precedent) for it to happen on demand. As for expectations, Professorships of the Practice are uniquely suited to golden parachute deals (0-1 teaching loads, no service, very high salary). Tenured professorships at Harvard can look close to that sometimes, but for the most part come with a 2-1 teaching load (with compensations for running a center or something equivalent), some university wide or departmental service, and so on. Someone has to read all those senior theses.Report

Jayanti
Jayanti
Reply to  Robert A Gressis
5 months ago
Dr. Sandra Thompson
Dr. Sandra Thompson
5 months ago

Money is great, but respect is the issue that we as Black people in America demand. Give Dr. West his tenure!!!!!!!Report

Nicole
Nicole
5 months ago

Cornel west is brilliant and such a powerful voice. Why would harvard deny him this?Report

ehz
ehz
5 months ago

It’s unfortunate that many commenters here do not understand that being brilliant, an intellectual giant, and deserving of respect — and I do not doubt that Prof. West is all of these — have absolutely nothing to do with getting tenure at a research institution.Report

John Sneed
John Sneed
5 months ago

I am surprised that tenure does not come automatically with an endowed chair.Report

Jonathan
Jonathan
Reply to  John Sneed
5 months ago

See above. He is a Professor of the Practice. That’s a very elite category with Harvard and similar institutions, often held my celebrity writers and politicians etc. It comes with none of the teaching and service burdens of tenure but all or more of the salary and glory. This is what he negotiated for going in.Report

Noah C
Noah C
5 months ago

Am I the only one to see a huge decrease in the academic quality of his work? His work was a mainstay in my own in the 90’s …Prophecy Deliverance, the neo-realism stuff… But I just read a piece he wrote on what a dead major theologian would be saying about geopolitics today we’re he alive– agreeing with West’s flat reductionist approach– and he never refers to an entire book he published on that exact subject. I’m pretty sure West didn’t bother to check that he had written on the subject. Sounds like Harvard is saying you’re an amazing public intellectual, but you’re not considering yourself bound by academic standards at this point in your impressive career.Report

Linda Foley
Linda Foley
5 months ago

What is the University’s rationale for what appears to be a slight. Difficult to comprehend.Report

Eric Lewis
Eric Lewis
5 months ago

It will take far more than I read in the comments to date not to see this as a racist act, pure and simple.Report

Last edited 5 months ago by Eric Lewis
Donald Jackson
Donald Jackson
5 months ago

I am going to keep my brother in prayer, come what may….God has this man!Report

shirley flores munoz
shirley flores munoz
5 months ago

mendacity…how can they do this to one of the most profound thinkers in our world today…amazing that the mediocre can rule…while the brilliant will be cast aside…push back my friends…push back…Report