Cornel West Tweets His Resignation Letter From Harvard

By Joshua Adams Jul 14, 2021

On Monday (July 12) scholar Cornel West tweeted out his resignation letter from Harvard University.

West announced earlier this year that he was leaving Harvard for Union Theological Seminary in New York because he was denied tenure. In an interview with the Harvard Crimson, West said that the public outcry caused Harvard to reconsider his tenure, but “the fact that this reversal came only after external scrutiny merely solidified his decision to leave the University.”

In the tweet, West posted the letter he sent to the Dean of Harvard Divinity School on June 30. West prefaced his resignation with “This is my candid letter of resignation to my Harvard Dean. I try to tell the unvarnished truth about the decadence in our market-driven  universities! Let us bear witness against this spiritual rot!”

West gave a list of reasons why he decided to resign. Among them, he claims that his salary was “less than what he received 15 years ago,” is hurt by the lack of empathy and care he received from the Divinity School when he announced the passing of his mother, and what he felt was hostility towards his solidarity towards the Palestinian cause. In a recent interview with BNC News, West argued that colleagues at Harvard both "consciously and unconsciously" told him that he was "going too far" and this his unwavering support for Palestinians is taken as anti-Semitic.

West also lambasted the “glittering form” of “superficial diversity,” implying that the school listed all of his classes (regardless of the topic) under Afro-American Religious Studies. He also claimed to only have received two public replies to the death of his mother. He concluded the letter, stating that the “kind of academic professionalism, cowardly deference to anti-Palestinian prejudices of the Harvard Administration, and indifference to my Mother’s death constitute an intellectual and spiritual bankruptcy of deep depths.”

West, an academic, public intellectual and progressive activist, has been an outspoken critic of the state of Israel and its treatment of Palestinians. Earlier this year, Rabbi Jonah C. Steinberg accused West of furthering “an anti-Jewish conspiracy theory” when he blamed his tenure denial on his support for Palestinians. 

Fellow academics tweeted out their support for West. Yale scholar Jason Stanley tweeted “The academics I know who have worked alongside @CornelWest have uniformly expressed not just vast admiration but also great thankfulness for his enormous contributions along multiple dimensions. It’s a broad swath of academics too. Harvard’s treatment of him is remarkable to me.” The American Association of University Professors tweeted that West’s resignation highlighted a “growing crisis w/ academic freedom and shared governance in Higher Education.”