Cornel West, considered one of the most prominent Black philosophers and progressive activists in the country, announced Monday that he has resigned from his position at Harvard University’s Divinity School, saying the institution was in a state of “decline and decay” and “spiritual rot.”

In a resignation letter dated June 30 and posted to Twitter, West suggested that discrimination at the university drove him to leave the Divinity School. The 68-year-old scholar said in March he was abandoning his quest for tenure at Harvard to return to the Union Theological Seminary in New York, where he first taught more than four decades earlier.

“How sad it is to see our beloved Harvard Divinity School in such decline and decay,” he wrote. “The disarray of a scattered curriculum, the disenchantment of talented yet deferential faculty, and the disorientation of previous students loom large.”

West, who added that Harvard has become “market-driven,” tweeted, “Let us bear witness against this spiritual rot!”

“The School has no comment on Dr. West’s letter,” Jonathan Beasley, a spokesman for the Harvard Divinity School, said Tuesday morning.

The release of what West described as his “candid” resignation letter came after journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones announced last week that she had accepted a faculty position at Howard University and turned down an offer to teach at the University of North Carolina due to a long and remarkably contentious back-and-forth over tenure. While trustees for UNC-Chapel Hill voted to award tenure to Hannah-Jones, the vote came after the public university hired her as a professor without the job-protection status, which caused faculty members and students to protest that she had been mistreated.

West was previously a tenured Ivy League professor at Harvard, Princeton and Yale. He left Harvard in 2002 after a public fight with the university’s president at the time, but returned to the institution in a nontenured position in 2017.

The news first came to light in the spring when West, in announcing he was leaving, said the university had turned down a recommendation by a faculty committee that would have made his untenured position a tenured one. When that tenure fight became public, he told the Boycott Times, a nonprofit outlet, in March that Harvard had made strides in diversity but that “pettiness” of the talks over his status made him feel “disrespected and devalued.”

“Harvard has actually done very well in terms of bringing different peoples of different colors and gender at a high level into the administration,” he said. “But it does not yet translate on the ground in terms of faculty. It does not yet translate in terms of being able to speak to the seeking of truth among the students.”

The school changed course following an outcry to give him tenure, but West told the Harvard Crimson that the university’s shift due to public pressure only reaffirmed his decision to leave.

West, a professor of the practice of public philosophy, said in his letter that he hoped for a different outcome to an issue that has been a sticking point since his return to the university. He claimed he had been earning “a salary less than what I received 15 years earlier.”

“I hoped and prayed I could still end my career with some semblance of intellectual intensity and personal respect,” he wrote. “How wrong I was!”

The public intellectual claimed that “the shadow of Jim Crow” was present in Harvard through “the language of superficial diversity.”

In addition to the lack of tenure, he noted the administration’s “hostility toward the Palestinian cause.” The school has reportedly invested nearly $200 million in companies linked to Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories.

The lack of support and well wishes from the administration after his mother died were also mentioned in his resignation letter.

“In my case, a serious commitment to Veritas requires resignation – with precious memories but absolutely no regrets!” he wrote.


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