West to leave Harvard to become University professor of religion
Friday, April 12, 4:20 p.m.—The University plans to appoint Saturday Harvard University African-American studies and religion professor Cornel West GS '80, the University said Friday.
Speculation about whether the University would hire West has intensified during the past several days. During the last week, West said he finalized his decision and professors close to him confirmed that it is likely he would leave Harvard.
The appointment requires the approval of the University Board of Trustees, which meets Saturday in Nassau Hall.
The board is expected to approve the appointment.
West will return to the University as the 1943 University Professor of Religion, effective July 1, according to a University statement. He will also teach in the African-American studies program. West was a member of the University faculty from 1988 through 1994, chairing the program in African-American studies.
Harvard Law professor Charles Olgetree told The Daily Princetonian last night that West's decision was imminent. Through last night University officials maintained they did not know if West had informed the University of his decision but said the board could act if West announced his decision by Saturday.
"Cornel West, who is known for his intellectual contributions in the study of religion and for challenging those both inside and outside of academia to think about critical issues of race, was a popular and dedicated teacher during his previous tenure at Princeton, and we are pleased that he has decided to return," President Tilghman said in a University statement Friday.
"It's a pleasure to welcome Cornel back to Princeton where he was such an inspiring teacher and stimulating scholar," Provost Amy Gutmann said Friday.
The University has been aggressively trying to strengthen its African-American studies program, University officials have said. Earlier in the year, it hired Harvard African-American studies professor K. Anthony Appiah. Questions remain over whether the program, especially with West's imminent appointment, will be granted full departmental status.
West said he was pleased to return to the University.
"I am excited to return to the greatest center for humanist studies in the country," he said in a University statement Friday. "I look forward to being a part of President Tilghman's vision that promotes high quality intellectual conversation mediated with respect."
Harvard president Lawrence Summers thanked West for his contributions and said he would be missed.
"All of us in the Harvard community are grateful to Cornel West for his significant contributions to Harvard academic life, especially the great inspiration he provided to so many students," Summers said in a statement. "We will miss him, and I wish him every success at Princeton."
A rift emerged between West and Summers during the past year. West said he felt "dishonored" by comments Summers made about West's production of a rap music CD and his contributions to academia.
Summers has made efforts to keep West on board, and student groups have petitioned him to stay.
Colin Palmer, chair of the African-American studies program, said in a statement that West is "certain to make a fine contribution to the intellectual life of the program in African-American studies."
"The Department of Religion is delighted to welcome back Cornel West," said religion chair Martha Himmelfarb in a statement. "During his years here he brought extraordinary energy to his undergraduate teaching, and he helped to attract and train an exception group of graduate students."
On April 2, the University inadvertently released a statement congratulating West on accepting a position on the faculty. University officials said the statement was a mistake and was being prepared just in case West were appointed.
Other African-American studies professors from Harvard who have been mentioned in connection with University appointments include William Jules Wilson and Henry Louis Gates Jr., chair of Harvard's Afro-American studies department.
Princeton has been pursuing Gates, University officials and Harvard professors have said. The 'Prince' reported Thursday that the University was discussing the concept of a research institute for African-American studies with Gates in an effort to have him come to the University.
The University does not currently have plans for such an institute, said Robert Durkee '69, vice president of public affairs. But it does not rule one out in the future, either connected with Gates coming to the University or independent of any new appointments, he said.
Gates said yesterday that West "will be sorely missed" and said that "as a teacher, as a scholar and as a citizen of the [Afro-American studies] department, [West] is without parallel."
The University also announced that Bowdoin College associate professor of religion and Africana studies Eddie Glaude '95 would join the faculty. Glaude was a student of West while at the University.
West graduated from Harvard magna cum laude and earned his Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton in 1980. In 1996, he was awarded the James Madison Medal, the highest honor the University bestows on graduate alumni.
At Harvard, where he is the Alphonse Fletcher Jr. University Professor, West taught various levels of courses in African-American, philosophy and religious studies.
Recommendations for appointments originate in departments. A faculty committee then examines the recommendation, and the president makes the final recommendation to the board. Editor's Note: This breaking story was appended to the April 12th issue of The Daily Princetonian's online edition at 4:20 PM on April 12th.
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