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Cornel West threatens to resign as Harvard professor after request for tenure is denied

“If I cannot be put up for tenure, then...I will go,” said West.

Cornel West Getty Images

Philosopher and social critic Cornel West is contemplating a departure from Harvard University, where he currently works as a professor. As The Boston Globe reported, the activist made a request for tenure at the prestigious university, but despite a positive five-year review, he was rejected and offered a pay raise instead.

According to West, his substance of work was cited as a reason for the denial. “What I’m told is it’s too risky... It’s too fraught. And I’m too controversial,” explained the professor, who considers the rejection a sign of disrespect.

“It is once again this issue of just not putting up with being disrespected. It’s sad you have to go through this again,” said West. “But I wasn’t raised to put up with being disrespected or tolerate disrespect. I don’t try to negotiate respect.”

A Harvard spokesman commented on the matter, refuting West’s claims he was rejected because of his work. “The administration offered him a prestigious endowed chair with a 10-year contract and a pay raise, but he is not interested,” the spokesperson told The Globe.

If West leaves Harvard University, it will be the second time he parts ways with the school. In 2002, his public argument with former Harvard president Lawrence Summers about his scholarship and the college’s responsibility to affirmative action prompted him to leave the university. The professor — who says he witnessed many Black counterparts depart within the last year — made his return nearly 15 years later and is now considering tenure positions at other top universities.

“If I cannot be put up for tenure, then it is clear they don’t think I’m worthy of tenure,” West told The Globe. “And I will go.”

West — a Harvard alum — teaches at the Ivy League’s divinity school, law school and Department of African and African American Studies.

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