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Dr. Cornel West
Dr. Cornel West CBS NEWS

Dr. Cornel West has resigned from his position at Harvard University, citing “intellectual and spiritual bankruptcy of deep depths” in a letter of resignation, which has been shared widely across social media.

Back in March, Dr. West stated he would move to Union Theological Seminary, where he first taught 40 years ago.  Beginning on July 1, Dr. West started his position as the prestigious Dietrich Bonhoeffer Chair of Theology and Ethics.

In his letter, Dr. West excoriated the culture at Harvard, writing that he is no longer pursuing tenure at one of the most well-known universities in the country. Regarding being passed over for tenure, Dr. West wrote, “We all knew the mendacious reasons given had nothing to do with academic standards. When my committee recommended a tenure review – also rejected by the Harvard administration – I knew my academic achievements and student teaching meant far less than their political prejudices.”

About Dr. West

In 1973, Dr. West received his undergraduate degree from Harvard in Near Eastern Languages and Civilization, graduating magna cum laude.  Following that, Dr. West attended graduate school at Princeton University, where he was the first African-American student to graduate with a Ph. D. in philosophy.

Dr. West has and had positions across many prestigious universities across the world. He has had fellowships and academic appointments at Princeton, Yale, Dartmouth, Pepperdine, and the University of Paris. He is also an author and editor

In his letter, Dr. West suggested that his strong political and ethical stands were part of the reason for his poor treatment from Harvard. Dr. West is a strong supporter of Palestine and taught American Democracy and the Conduct of Life, as well as Existentialism.

Prejudice in academia

Dr. Cornel also referenced his mother’s passing in his resignation letter. “This kind of narcissistic academic professionalism, cowardly deference to the anti-Palestinian prejudices of the Harvard administration, and indifference to my mother’s death constitute an intellectual and spiritual bankruptcy to deep depths. In my case, serious commitment to Veritas requires resignation — with precious memories but absolutely no regrets!”

Dr. West is not the first Black professor to face prejudice and hit glass ceilings in academia. Recently, Nikole Hannah-Jones, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who was a leading contributor to the 1619 Project, was denied tenure at the University of North Carolina due to a White funder’s concerns about her appointment. 

Read the full text of Dr. West’s resignation letter on Twitter.

Erika Stone is a graduate student in the Master of Social Work program at the University of Oklahoma, and a graduate assistant at Schusterman Library. A Chess Memorial Scholar, she has a B.A. in Psychology...