For those who believed the long struggle to put Afro-American studies at Harvard University on solid footing had ceased years ago, the recent controversy over Harvard president Dr. Lawrence H. Summers' private rebuke of Afro-American studies professor Dr. Cornel West has proven deeply troubling.
Although Summers publicly praised the Afro-American Studies department and expressed regret over any "misunderstanding" resulting from the meeting where he allegedly criticized West for non-scholarly public activities and urged him to pursue a work of serious scholarship, the controversy has left both supporters of Afro-American studies and higher education diversity advocates shaken and unsettled. Observers point to the outpouring of media coverage, much of which has included virulent reactions from conservative commentators, as a sign that, borrowing the title of West's most popular book, "race matters" deeply enough in the academy for the nation to sit up and take notice.
"What (the controversy) indicates to me is how contested Afro-American studies continues to be at Harvard," says Dr. Glenn Loury, a Boston University economics professor and a former Harvard professor who was the first Black to have tenure in the economics department.
Summers, an economist who served as the U.S. Treasury Secretary under President Bill Clinton before becoming Harvard's president in 2001, is known as a brash and …