Given a resurgent ‘rona, the rise in extreme weather-related deaths, the intransigence of global poverty, and the related and desperate plight of Haitians and Cubans, why am I writing about Cornel West’s resignation letter?
Because it’s relatively small and oh so familiar. And because one doesn’t have to have taught at Harvard to have a feel for self-important academics.
West has succeeded in drawing attention to his anger at Harvard for denying him tenure, but I haven’t seen anyone call attention to the oddest of personal details he injects near the end of his letter.
“When the announcement of the death of my Beloved Mother appeared in the regular newsletter, I received two public replies. . . .”
As a check on me taking this one sentence too much out of context, skim the whole letter, it’s not long.
- As a result of sharing his letter with the national press, West is communicating his belief that his tenure case deserves a national audience.
- West kept count of how many people did and didn’t express sympathies after his mother died. For West, the professional and the personal are one in the same.
Given his obvious ego, West had to be a challenging colleague. Maybe if he was more selfless and didn’t conflate the professional and the personal so much, he still wouldn’t have been granted tenure. Maybe black scholars are unfairly held to higher expectations at Harvard. Maybe we owe West thanks for illuminating the structural racism embedded in the most prestigious educational institution in the country.
Or maybe he failed to get along with enough people and we shouldn’t extrapolate from his case at all.