• April 12th, 2021
...

NO TENURE, NO WEST

In a recent interview, Dr. Cornel West revealed that Harvard has denied his request to be considered for tenure. As graduate students who have shared the campus with Dr. West for a number of years, we view Harvard’s refusal to grant tenure to an intellectual of Dr. West’s stature as disrespectful both to him and to the community he has helped raise.

There is no doubt that his publications, advancement of knowledge, public engagement, and teaching record far exceed the requirements of the most scrupulous of tenure processes. It is almost difficult to believe that Harvard has cited Dr. West’s alleged “lack of scholarship” as a reason for denying him tenure. From the dozens of scholarly books, such as his early text Prophesy Deliverance! An Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity (1982) to the journal articles and collected works that make up the 500+ page The Cornel West Reader (1999), Dr. West’s scholarly corpus has been monumental.

West’s work has helped advance scholarship in numerous fields as well as broaden debate on the most topical issues facing U.S. and global society today. Significantly, 2018 marked the 25th anniversary of Dr. West’s Race Matters, a landmark in the national discourse on race, poverty and justice published in the aftermath of Rodney King’s brutal 1993 confrontation with the police, caught on camera and disseminated to the world. 

Race Matters has become a staple in curricula used by race educators across the globe. In her review of bell hooks and Dr. West’s more recent publication Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life (2016), Black feminist sociologist and past President of the American Sociological Association Patricia Hill Collins writes: “bell hooks and Cornel West’s wonderful volume is theoretical poetry, poetic theory…The scope of topics addressed in the far-ranging conversations between the two authors is breathtaking…[The book] not only theorizes about how a transformed intellectual power might fuse deep moral concern and political engagement — it actually does it.”

We say that it is almost difficult to believe Harvard’s dismissal of West’s prolific intellectual output because we are keenly aware of how predominantly white institutions (like Harvard) disregard the contributions of Black scholars. To cast aspersions on Dr. West’s scholarship is not only deplorable, it also casts doubt on the generations of scholars who have benefited from and built upon his work. Farah Jasmine Griffin, Imani Perry, Saidiya Hartman, and Eddie Glaude Jr. are just a few of the intellectual leaders in Black Studies whose published work, institutional service, and pedagogy bear his profound influence.

The number of faculty of color, and especially Black faculty, leaving Harvard has been a growing concern among students for the past five years. Dr. West’s main faculty, the Divinity School, currently has only two tenured Black faculty members and only one in a tenure-track position — Dr. Todne Thomas. The Divinity School’s exclusion of Black faculty has clearly failed to meet the standards set by the values that it extols.

Last year over 100 faculty members from the Divinity School and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences signed a letter calling for a “comprehensive review” of the tenure process. As though the ironclad gates of merit that academia has manufactured were not high and arbitrary enough, Harvard has chosen to go even further by institutionalizing clandestine tenure processes mired in opacity that have resulted in a series of unjustified tenure denials.

As graduate students we stand at a revelatory intersection; we spend a significant amount of time with both the student body and the faculty instructing it. We see what happens to both our students and our professors when Dr. West walks into a room. It is not an exaggeration to say that Dr. West’s presence on campus is electrifying. The sight of his familiar black and white suit ensemble signals the presence of kindness, humility and intellectual rigor, a combination that has become increasingly rare among today’s professionalized class of intellectuals.

Dr. West’s contribution to our intellectual training is invaluable. Students who may otherwise, for example, have only come across the monumental work of W.E.B. Du Bois in a few passages from The Souls of Black Folk on other syllabi, speak of Black ReconstructionDarkwater, and Dusk of Dawn with nuance and ease because Dr. West guides them through a semester-long close reading of Du Bois’ writings. In his philosophy classes at the Law School and the Divinity School, Dr. West reminds his students that in a world that seeks to fragment our very beings we must learn to see the connections between Nietzsche and Nina Simone, between Kierkegaard and Maria Stewart, between Chekhov and Coltrane. For those of us training under him as doctoral students his attentiveness, generous guidance, and comments on our work push us to cultivate intersectional and interdisciplinary analyses that extend the boundaries of our various disciplines.

Every class Dr. West teaches at Harvard begins with his defining the words parrhesia and veritas. The former is a Greek word that means “frank speech,” which he tells us is fundamental to our holistic formation as seekers of knowledge, beauty, and justice. The latter is a Latin word meaning “truth.” It is also the Harvard University motto, which Dr. West referred to in his Multireligious Commencement Service Address at Harvard Divinity School in 2019 when he asked:

“That’s quite an audacious motto for a university, isn’t it? Truth itself. The condition of that truth is to allow suffering to speak, and when that suffering speaks, there must be a Socratic dimension that brings critique on the one hand, but also the prophetic ones that said: Are we willing to enact and embody to the best of who we are?”

We, the students of Cornel West at Harvard University, strive to be the best of who we are in the service of others. Dr. West reminds us that solidarity is not abstract, that theories without practice fail, and that our minds do not live in a world apart from the dangers that threaten bodies on the streets.

The loss of Brother West on our campus would deal a devastating blow to an already near disenchanted community. If Professor Cornel West, one of the most important intellectuals of our time, is not deemed worthy of tenure, we must ask — what is the inherent message Harvard is sending to generations of Black scholars and intellectuals? This is an urgent matter of equity and parity for the University. In view of his record as a published scholar, teacher, and mentor, and his moral and intellectual contribution to Harvard and society more broadly, we urge Harvard to do what is right and just — grant Dr. West his much deserved tenure.

Signed,

Mafaz Al-Suwaidan, PhD Student, GSAS

Pamela Nwakanma, PhD Student

Panashe Chigumadzi, PhD Student

Karlene Griffiths Sekou, PhD Student, GSAS

Mark Kabban, Ed.L.D Student

Catey Boyle, PhD Student, GSAS (History)

Shahara C. Jackson, Ed.L.D. Student

Hassan Brown, Ed.L.D. Student

Rev. Steven A. Chambers, Ed.L.D. Student

Sarah Tucker, Ed.L.D. Student

Tauheedah Baker-Jones, Ed.L.D. Student

Ethan Goodnight, PhD Student, GSAS

Seokweon Jeon, PhD Student, GSAS

Parastoo Massoumi, PhD Student, HGSE

Jewel Pereyra, PhD Student, GSAS

Michael Ortiz-Castro, PhD Student, GSAS

Sarah King, Ed.L.D. Student

Charli Kemp, Ed.L.D. Student

Andrew Benitez, Ed.L.D. Student

Jared Fox, Ed.L.D. Student

Yareli Castro Sevilla, PhD Student, GSAS

Steven Harris, PhD Student, GSAS

Carmen Williams, Ed.L.D. Student

Mac Loftin, PhD Student

Eric Stephen, PhD Student, Religion

Jovonna Jones, PhD Student, GSAS

Sherah Bloor, PhD Student, GSAS (Religion)

Aabid Allibhai, PhD Student

Gabrielle Freewomxn Ed.M Student

Jelani Hayes, PhD Student, GSAS

Rev. Leah Rumsey, PhD Candidate, GSAS

Dexter Moore, Jr., Ed.L.D. Student

Darien Pollock, PhD Student, Department of Philosophy, GSAS

Paul Clarke, PhD Student, GSAS

John Nowak, PhD Student, GSAS

Ashley Ison, PhD Student, HGSE

Cresa Pugh, PhD Candidate, Sociology and Social Policy, GSAS

Gladys Aguilar, PhD Candidate, HGSE

Eve O’Connor, PhD Candidate, GSAS

Kailah Lee McGee, PhD Student, GSAS

Michael Vázquez, PhD Student, GSAS

Ayana Henderson, PhD Candidate, GSAS/HMS

José Del Río Pantoja, PhD Candidate, GSAS

Xavier du Maine, PhD Candidate, GSAS

Ellis Reid, PhD Candidate, GSAS

Tiara Lacey, PhD Candidate, GSAS/HMS

Reva Dhingra, PhD Candidate, GSAS

Janelle Fouche, PhD Candidate, GSAS

Kelcee Everette, PhD Candidate, GSAS/HMS

Eddie Kim, PhD Candidate, HGSE

Hania Mariën, PhD Student, HGSE

Gabrielle Webb, PhD Student, GSAS/HSPH

Shandra M. Jones, PhD Candidate, GSAS/HGSE

Javad T. Hashmi, MD, PhD Candidate, CSR, GSAS

Adonius Lewis, Ed.L.D. student, HGSE

Becca S. Bassett, PhD Candidate, GSAS

Farah El-Sharif, PhD Candidate, NELC, GSAS

Jarrett Martin Drake, PhD Student, GSAS

Armaan Siddiqi, PhD Candidate, GSAS

Latifeh Aavani, PhD Candidate, GSAS

Elís Miller Larsen, PhD Candidate (Philosophy)

Olivia Woldemikael, PhD GSAS

Gulchehra Rikhsieva, PhD Candidate, HMES/WGS

Ericka Rio Sanchez, PhD Student, GSAS

Sohini Upadhyay, PhD Student, GSAS

Emma Rackstraw, PhD Student, GSAS

Sam Bozoukov, PhD student, GSAS

Mark Wright, PhD Student, GSAS (OEB)

Oliver Lazarus, PhD Student, GSAS

Wyatt Sarafin, PhD Candidate, GSAS

Tsiona Lida, PhD Candidate (History) GSAS.

Marcella Hayes, PhD Candidate, GSAS

Jonah Pearl, PhD student, GSAS

Samora Pinderhughes, PhD Candidate, Music Department, Creative Practice & Critical Inquiry

Della Syau, PhD Student, GSAS

Caroline Filice Smith, Phd Student, GSAS/GSD

Lilia Kilburn, PhD Student, GSAS

Mary McNeil, Ph.D. Candidate, GSAS

Zeke Benshirim, PhD Student, GSAS/HMS, College ‘19

Edom Tesfa, PhD student, HGSE

Jonathan Karp, PhD Candidate, GSAS

Elinor Hitt, PhD Candidate, GSAS

Cana McGhee, PhD student, GSAS

Boryana Hadzhiyska, PhD Candidate (Astrophysics), GSAS

Ege Yumusak, PhD Student, Department of Philosophy, GSAS

Ione Barrows, PhD student, GSAS

Maya Anjur-Dietrich, PhD candidate, GSAS

Carolyn Boudreau, PhD Candidate, GSAS/HMS

Kai Morsink, PhD Student, GSAS

Andrew Bergman, PhD Student, Applied Physics, GSAS

Daniel Eaton, PhD Student, Systems, Synthetic and Quantitative Biology (SSQBio) Program, GSAS

Lauren Taylor, PhD Student, GSAS

Sarah Corrigan, PhD student, GSAS

Francesca Bellei, PhD student, GSAS

Danila Crespin Zidovsky, Ed.L.D., HGSE

Toly Rinberg, PhD Student, Applied Physics, GSAS

Alexander Hartley, PhD student, Department of Comparative Literature, GSAS

Alberto Parisi, PhD candidate, Comparative Literature, GSAS

Kristen Zipperer, PhD student, GSAS

Drew Pendergrass, PhD student, GSAS/SEAS

Lara Norgaard, PhD Student, Comparative Literature, GSAS

Marisa Borreggine, PhD Candidate, Earth and Planetary Sciences, GSAS

Jenny Maron, PhD student, GSAS/HMS

Shandukani Mulaudzi, PhD student, Bioinformatics and Integrative Genomics, HMS

Belle Cheves, PhD Student, History and Middle Eastern Studies, GSAS

Swarnabh Ghosh, PhD Student, GSAS/GSD

Steven Rizzo, PhD Student, Religion, GSAS

Emily Wright, PhD student, Population Health Sciences, HSPH

Tiffany Brown, PhD Candidate, GSAS

Patrick Emedom-Nnamdi, PhD Candidate, Biostatistics, GSAS

Hannah Conway, PhD Candidate, GSAS

Bettine Gibbs Pharm.D., Ph.D. student, Chemical Biology, HMS

Ya’el Courtney, PhD Student, GSAS/HMS

Christofer Rodelo, PhD candidate, American Studies, GSAS

DeAnza A. Cook, PhD Candidate and Harvard Student Worker, History, GSAS

Keletso Makofane, PhD candidate, Population Health Sciences, HSPH

Rodrigo Telles, PhD Student, GSAS/SEAS

Aaron Brennen Benavidez, PhD Candidate, GSAS

Gabriella Herrera, MD Candidate, HMS ’21 (MPH, HSPH ’20)

Olivia Carpenter, PhD Student, English Department, GSAS

Will Pruitt, PhD Candidate, African and African American Studies, GSAS

Keisha Knight, PhD Student, GSAS

Valerie Werder, PhD Student, Film and Visual Studies, GSAS

Nace Zavrl, PhD Student, Film and Visual Studies, GSAS

Abhinav Ghosh, PhD Student, HGSE

Orelia Jonathan, PhD Student HGSE

ilkim karakus, PhD Candidate, GSAS

Abigail Mariam, Ph.D. Student, Sociology and Social Policy, GSAS

Tiffany Nichols, PhD Candidate, History of Science, GSAS

Michael O’Krent, Comparative Literature, GSAS

Avriel Epps-Darling, PhD Student, GSAS

Olivia Crough, PhD Candidate, Department of Art, Film, and Visual Studies, GSAS

Sebastian Jackson, PhD Candidate, GSAS

Karla Martinez Nevarez, PhD Student, GSAS/HMS

Anna Neumann, PhD Candidate, GSAS

Renugan Raidoo, PhD Candidate, Social Anthropology, GSAS

Danube Johnson, PhD Candidate, Religion, GSAS

Armanc Yildiz, PhD Candidate, GSAS

Shireen Hamza, PhD Candidate, History of Science, GSAS

Matthew Volpe, PhD Candidate, GSAS

Jonathan Andersen, PhD Candidate, GSAS

Nathaniel Braffman, PhD Candidate, GSAS (Chemistry and Chemical Biology)

Brandon Enalls, PhD Candidate, GSAS

Gabriel Filsinger, PhD Student, GSAS

Jessica Dickson, PhD Candidate, GSAS

Jennifer Austiff, Ph.D. Candidate, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, GSAS

David Mazumder, MD & PhD Candidate, GSAS, HMS

Chelsea Hall, PhD Candidate, Religion, Gender, and Culture, GSAS

Stephanie Wu, PhD Candidate, Biostatistics, GSAS

Daniel Arias, PhD Student, GSAS

Balraj Gill, PhD Candidate, GSAS

Jacob Muscato, PhD Candidate, GSAS

Erica Sterling, PhD Candidate, GSAS

Yasmene Mumby, M.A.T., J.D., Ed.L.D., HGSE

Nate Herter, Phd Candidate, Classics, GSAS

Diego Aldarondo, PhD Candidate, HMS, GSAS

Aaron Van Neste, PhD candidate, History of Science, GSAS

Matlin Gilman, MPH, PhD student (incoming), Population Health Sciences, GSAS

Wythe Marschall, Ph.D. candidate, History of Science, GSAS

Jordan Howell, PhD Candidate, Department of the History of Science, GSAS

Anya Yermakova, PhD Candidate, History of Science and Critical Media Practice, GSAS

Davindar Singh, PhD Student, Ethnomusicology, GSAS

A coalition of undergraduate & graduate groups at Harvard have launched a petition in support of Dr. West. Please click here to read & sign.



Harvard Graduate Students
Harvard Graduate Students
If you are a doctoral student at Harvard and would like to add your name and endorse this statement, please email drwestsolidarityletter@gmail.com using your Harvard email address.

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