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THE NATION

Scholar West Downplays Harvard Dispute

Education: He says the university's president was mainly responsible for his departure.

April 21, 2002|From Associated Press

MAHWAH, N.J. — Harvard University scholar Cornel West said the school's president was largely responsible for his move to Princeton but that too much has been made of their dispute.

After giving a lecture Saturday at Ramapo College, West spoke to reporters about "the push of Harvard and pull of Princeton"--and said Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers was the push. But he said Harvard's tradition is bigger than any one faculty member or disagreement.

"Thirty years from now, when we're dead and gone, Harvard will still be there," West said. "I'm leaving Harvard with a tear, arriving at Princeton with a smile."

Summers reportedly rebuked West for recording a spoken-word CD and leading a political committee for the Rev. Al Sharpton's possible presidential campaign and not focusing enough on scholarship. He also reportedly accused West of allowing grade inflation in his introductory black studies course.

Some in Harvard's African American studies department have also said Summers did not make a strong statement in support of affirmative action after taking over his post last year.

West, a distinguished professor in the department, spoke about the possibility of department head Henry Louis Gates Jr. following him to Princeton.

"You never know," West said. "He's leaning in that direction, but you have to let him speak for himself."

Gates has said he will make a decision this summer.

West said he was excited about the recent expansion of Princeton's African American studies program, which he led until 1994. He starts at Princeton in July.

Hundreds of people attended West's lecture Saturday, a discussion on black intellectualism.

West said the Sept. 11 attacks united all of the nation's factions for the first time in history because Americans from all walks of life found themselves the focus of arbitrary violence.

West gained prominence with his 1993 book, "Race Matters," and has also worked on such projects as the Million Man March, confabs on hip-hop music and national youth gang summits.

He was the second to leave Harvard's black studies department this year. K. Anthony Appiah accepted an offer from Princeton in January, citing personal reasons.

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