Cornel West Leaves Heads Back to Union Theological Seminary After Tenure Dispute With Harvard

Cornel West is joining the faculty of Union Theological Seminary, where he was first hired at the age of 23. (Credit…Craig Matthews/The Press of Atlantic City, via Associated Press)

Cornel West is abandoning his quest for tenure at Harvard and going back to Union Theological Seminary, where he first taught 44 years ago, the New York seminary announced on Monday.

Over the past few weeks, Dr. West, 67, a popular professor of African-American studies and progressive activist, had threatened to leave Harvard because, he said, the university had balked at a recommendation by a faculty committee that his untenured position be converted to a tenured one.

He has been a tenured professor at Yale, Princeton and Harvard in the past but left Harvard once before, in 2002 after a public fight with Lawrence Summers, the university’s president at the time. He returned to a nontenured position at Harvard in 2017.

The Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, the president of Union, said in an interview on Monday that “our whole school is devoted to the same prophetic message” as Dr. West, and that he would bring his intellectual rigor to bear on “the meaning of life and why we’re here, and what we’re called to do and be.”

Union was founded nearly 200 years ago as a “radical breakaway” from traditional ministerial education, and now attracts not only Christian students, but Buddhists, Muslims, Jews and other faiths as well as some students who are spiritual but not religiously affiliated, Dr. Jones said.

Dr. West has been awarded the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Chair, named after a German theologian, an announcement from the seminary said, and will teach a range of subjects in philosophy, politics, cultural theory and literature. His appointment is effective in July, and he will be entering with tenure.

“If you could give three times, four times tenure, he would come with quadruple tenure,” Dr. Jones said.

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SOURCE: The New York Times, Anemona Hartocollis