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Cornel West Calls Out Harvard Divinity School’s ‘Spiritual Bankruptcy’ in Resignation Letter

Cornel West Calls Out Harvard Divinity School’s ‘Spiritual Bankruptcy’ in Resignation Letter

Dr. Cornel West, a progressive activist and scholar who eloquently intertwines race, politics and faith, announced earlier this year he would resign from Harvard University’s divinity school. Now, West has released the letter he wrote to the school’s dean outlining his reasons for leaving and referring to the school as a “spiritual rot.”

“With a few glorious and glaring exceptions, the shadow of Jim Crow was cast in its new glittering form expressed in the language of superficial diversity,” West wrote in his letter. 

West’s resignation was announced in March, following reports that the school denied his request to be considered for tenure. (He has been a tenured professor both at Yale and Princeton.) In his letter, he mentions that when he returned to Harvard in 2017, he was earning a salary less than what he had received in his previous time at Harvard 15 years earlier. 

West detailed a few major reasons for his departure in his letter. First, he accuses the administration of “narcissistic academic professionalism.” West said his courses were listed as Afro-American Religious Studies, even though they included courses on existentialism, American democracy and the conduct of life. He was promised a year’s sabbatical but was only able to take one semester in practice. He also had to teach additional courses, including five in one year. 

Another reason for West’s resignation was his belief that he had been passed for tenure due to his comments on the Israel-Palestine conflict. West had criticized Israel’s treatment of Palestine on his Twitter account earlier this year. In his letter, he wrote that “ … to witness a faculty enthusiastically support a candidate for tenure then timidly defer to a rejection based on the Harvard administration’s hostility to the Palestinian cause was disgusting.”

West also wrote that he was disappointed in the school’s reaction, or lack thereof, to news of his mother’s death. “When the announcement of the death of my beloved Mother appeared in the regular newsletter, I received two public replies,” West wrote. “Any ordinary announcement about a lecture, award or professional advancement receives about twenty replies!”

He concluded his letter, saying, “This kind of narcissistic academic professionalism, cowardly deference to the anti-Palestinian prejudices of the Harvard administration, and indifference to my Mother’s death constitute an intellectual and spiritual bankruptcy of deep depths.”

The divinity school has made no comment on West’s letter at this time.

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