The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Monday, April 15, 2002  


So Cornel West is picking up his marbles and trotting off to Princeton. Surely these are happy days at Harvard. As this will not be Professor West's first stop-over at Princeton, one would think that august institution would know better. Alas, even the best and brightest can be dazzled when showmanship trumps scholarship.

West's colleague, Henry Louis Gates Jr., thought to be the next defector from Harvard's Department of Afro-American Studies, characterizes West's departure from Harvard as "devastating." We wonder whether Gates means "devastating to Henry Louis Gates Jr." rather than "devastating to Harvard University," but no matter. In a report in the New York Times, Gates added, "It's the end of an era. You can't lose Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, or Kobe and Shaq, and no one notices [sic]."

The professional basketball analogy, while unfortunate, is not as inappropriate as it first appears. This was, after all, a clash of egos, or at the very least, of strong personalities, with West on one side and Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers on the other. Summers, displeased at paying West some $200,000 a year to record a trashy rap CD and to provide political advice (and presumably hair-styling tips) to Rev. Al Sharpton, reportedly suggested last fall that West hit the books and produce some scholarship worthy of his status as one of Harvard's sixteen esteemed "University Professors."

Diss'ed in a private meeting, West threw a public tantrum, one from which Summers could not talk West down. According to the New York Times, "Those in Mr. Summers's camp and in Dr. West's say that in recent weeks the president telephoned repeatedly in a bid to patch up the relationship, something he had first tried in January. Dr. West did not respond to those calls[.]"

[Note that the article refers to Mr. Summers and Dr. West, despite the fact that both men have earned their Ph.D.s. The policy at the Times, as I understand it, is that an individual holding a doctorate may be referred to as "Dr." if he or she insists upon it. Otherwise, he or she will be referred to as "Mr.," "Ms.," "Mrs.," or "Miss." Quite telling, that.]

The article in the Times, in a quote attributed to "a close associate," which viewed in the context of the entire piece is either Gates or -- more likely -- Lani Guinier, reports: "Cornel is very hurt. His pride is wounded. He feels he has no choice but to leave if he is to protect his honor. It's clear there's only one reason he's going to Princeton. It's Larry."

Well, Larry, you did it. It's on your shoulders. You will be held responsible.


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