Cornel West resigns from Harvard U over 'spiritual rot,' blasts 'superficial diversity'

College professor Cornel West arrives for the Time 100 Gala in New York, May 5, 2009.
College professor Cornel West arrives for the Time 100 Gala in New York, May 5, 2009. | (Photo: Reuters/Lucas Jackson)

Notable academic and progressive African American philosophy professor Cornel West has announced his resignation from his position at Harvard University in Massachusetts, citing what he called “spiritual rot.”

West posted a copy of his letter of resignation to his official Twitter account on Monday, getting 70,000 likes and more than 13,000 retweets as of Tuesday morning. 

“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,” tweeted West, the grandson of a Baptist minister and democratic socialist civil rights activist. 

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In the June 30 letter, West cited numerous issues he had with Harvard Divinity School. Those include the “disarray of a scattered curriculum, the disenchantment of talented yet deferential faculty, and the disorientation of students.”

“With a few glorious and glaring exceptions, the shadow of Jim Crow was cast in its new glittering form expressed in the language of superficial diversity,” he wrote.

West also cited alleged anti-Palestinian bias, a dispute over whether to give him tenure and an inadequate response from the Ivy League institution to the passing of his mother.

His comments about the disrespect for the pro-Palestinian movement likely stem from a recent report by The Harvard Crimson that the school invests approximately $200 million in companies said to be tied to Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory.

In March, West had already openly expressed his plans to leave Harvard for Union Theological Seminary of New York City due to the dispute over granting him tenure.

“There are wonderful people at Harvard; we know that,” West told The Boycott Times in an interview at the time. “But I discovered that I can only take so much hypocrisy. I can only take so much dishonesty.”

“Harvard has actually done very well in terms of bringing different peoples of different colors and gender at a high level into the administration. But it does not yet translate on the ground in terms of faculty.”

West was previously a tenured professor at Harvard but left the school in 2002 and returned to a non-tenured position with Harvard in 2017. 

A prolific author and philosopher, West is known for his public debates and dialogue with conservative Catholic political philosopher and Princeton University law professor Robert P. George. The two are an "ideological odd couple" that have teamed up to promote tolerance in an increasingly divided America. They have spoken out against efforts to silence free speech on college campuses.

Last November, the two spoke during a Museum of the Bible event in Washington, D.C., centered on the issue of showing honesty and civility, even during times of intense political polarization.

During his remarks, given virtually, West discussed the importance of loving enemies, noting that “even the biggest gangsters among us” know to show “tender loving care” for their loved ones. 

“I try to remind people of that in terms of brother [Donald] Trump himself,” said West. “What looks like so often he just doesn’t have this love, and he doesn’t have this empathy, doesn’t have this concern, doesn’t have this sensitivity.”

“Yes, I believe there is a lot of evidence for that. That’s why I have called him a ‘gangster.’ But I was a gangster before I met Jesus," West continued. "And now I am a redeemed sinner with gangster proclivities. Because he, like me, made in the image of the same God and therefore has the possibility of going another way.”

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