Attackers--and Defenders--of Cornel West
The vultures have descended. Ever since Cornel West announced his decision to leave for Princeton, neo-conservative pundits have been using his departure as an opportunity to tear at not only the man himself but Afro-American Studies/Ethnic Studies/diversity as a whole. Predictably, the New Republic has some choice words, calling Afro-American studies a "fragile discipline" in need of "high standards and serious scholarship" and chastising Summers for being "so contrite." What would constitute serious Afro-American studies scholarship in the mind of New Republic writers I can only speculate (sociological studies proving "reverse racism"?), but I imagine it would involve Ward Connerly.
"A Childish Editorial"
But it's not just the hyper-conservatives--liberals and moderates are jumping on the West-bashing bandwagon too. As I mentioned earlier, Slate is keeping a Cornel West Whine Watch. Boston Phoenix cartoon journalist Scott Getchell portrayed West as a jargon-spouting "charlatan," who should be kept around purely for entertainment value (so black people are only allowed to be entertainers, not scholars?). The entire editorial board of the Harvard Crimson, who had previously hoped that West would stay, called his departure "childish" and "petulant", opining that "after the manner in which he departed, the University is better off without him." The attitude seems to be: we like him when he gives entertaining lectures and dances for us, but not when he gets angry (or in their words, when he complains/whines).
Worse, the Crimson claimed to speak for all undergraduates, declaring that "the Harvard community will not miss Cornel West" and that West had insulted the Black Students Association (BSA) by not personally thanking them for gathering 1,200 signatures asking for him to stay. Both these claims are presumptuous at best, as BSA president Brandon Gayle pointed out in an excellent letter to the editor (headlined "The Crimson Staff Does Not Speak for Us"): What is most shocking is not that West has chosen to leave, but rather the level of disrespect he and his supporters are being shown by members of this community. Nowhere is such insolence demonstrated more than in the Crimson staff’s editorial “A Childish Departure”... .The Crimson staff... claims that West’s actions over the course of the last week are “…destined to tarnish his otherwise commendable legacy at Harvard.” For those of us that have taken one of West’s classes, or interacted with him on a personal level, nothing will tarnish the legacy that he leaves behind.
Amen to that.
For his pains, Brandon received a particularly nasty letter from a writer at Harvard's conservative monthly The Salient (a paper useful for little more than entertainment and/or papier mache). I don't have permission to quote the letter at length, but suffice it to say that the author refers to West as an "egotistical demagogue" whose work is "absolutely worthless" (at least, according to three book reviews the letter-writer skimmed). He further asserts that West is a "racist" because he believes that Race Matters. Predictably, he attacks affirmative action as racist, and asserts that what Harvard needs is more conservative professors (who, he concedes, don't have to be white--"look at Alan Keyes"). He concludes by saying he hopes he has offended Brandon and caused him to rethink his views.