Harvard President Rejected by Black Clique

By West, Diana | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 4, 2002 | Go to article overview

Harvard President Rejected by Black Clique


West, Diana, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Byline: Diana West

In a fit of what may be called Ivy Pique, three prized professors from Harvard's Afro-American studies department spent their Christmas holidays very publicly mulling a possible mass exodus in a definite mass huff from dear old Harvard to dear, almost-as-old Princeton. Why? Harvard's new president, Lawrence H. Summers, it seems, needed a quick course in political correction.

Not that anyone involved said so - or much of anything else on the record. Anonymous surrogates kept whispering to the press in Boston and New York, but Mr. Summers wouldn't discuss conversations with faculty members; black studies Chairman Henry Louis Gates Jr. wouldn't discuss complaints from department members; black studies professor K. Anthony Appiah wouldn't discuss meetings with Princeton officials; and Cornel West, another black studies professor who recently made a few choice headlines by declaring that America had been "niggerized by the terrorist attacks," wouldn't discuss anything - not his rap CD recorded while on medical leave, not his role in Al Sharpton's presidential exploratory committee, not Harvard's endemic grade inflation, nothing. And certainly not what the New York Times called the "critical moment" in this contretemps - Mr. West's private meeting with Mr. Summers in October at which such sore subjects were reportedly raised, leaving Mr. West feeling "violated." Or so said the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Jesse Jackson? How did he get into this? The short answer is that the good reverend flew in, descending on Cambridge on New Year's Day to push for a "national conference on racial justice" (natch) and to seek "clarity" on Harvard's "diversity policy." This policy - creed, really - is the source of the controversy. As it happens, Harvard's new president of six months has nothing but unqualified support for "diversity," that semantically slippery term for the goals of affirmative action. (According to Harvard's admissions office, the university has never, ever practiced affirmative action.) The question being asked of Mr. Summers was whether his commitment to "diversity" was unqualified enough.

Meanwhile, not to be out-raced, the Rev. Al Sharpton made his own public pitch for "clarification." Al Sharpton suddenly wanted to know whether Harvard had "rebuked" Cornel West - he who claims, according to his own words, an "intellectual lineage . . . through Schopenhauer, Tolstoy, Rilke, Melville, Lorca, Kafka, Celan, Beckett, Soyinka, O'Neill, Kazantzakis, Morrison, and above all, Chekhov" - for joining Mr. Sharpton's proto-presidential campaign. If so, Mr. Sharpton told the Boston Globe, this could not only keep professors across the nation from supporting his candidacy for fear of repercussions, but it could also drive Mr. …

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