Harvard Blinked!

By Noble Johns


BOSTON (BNW) — After an onslaught of criticisms form the Black community, the new president of Harvard University met and ``cleared the air'' with a top Black scholar (Cornel West) who had considered leaving for Princeton University, a spokesman said. In other words, Harvard blinked at the perceived pressures it thought it would have received from the Black community over what some call “Harvard’s lack of diversity.”

Lawrence Summers, who took the president's post in October, met with professor Cornel West on last week. He also met with professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., chairman of the Afro-American studies department, and spoke by telephone to a third professor, William Julius Wilson, on Wednesday.

Harvard spokesman Joe Wrinn would not comment on Summers' meeting with West, except to say: ``They had a good conversation that cleared the air. They ended the conversation with a feeling of mutual respect.'' Wrinn gave no details on any of the three conversations.

Wilson told The Boston Globe that Summers apologized during their phone conversation about any miscommunication that would prompt him to leave.

``Summers is really trying to reach out and make amends and I think that's very encouraging,'' Wilson said. He told The New York Times: ``I think that these problems are going to be resolved.''

Several faculty members said the professors were considering leaving for Princeton after what they said were a series of snubs by Summers and a failure to make a strong statement in support of affirmative action. West, author of the best-selling ``Race Matters,'' had felt particularly aggrieved after Summers reportedly criticized him for making a rap CD and for grade inflation in his classes.

Summers, West, Gates and Wilson did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday. West told the student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, that ``the precious Harvard tradition is bigger than Summers, myself or any of us'' but otherwise wouldn't comment.

Law professor Charles Ogletree, who has been representing West, told The Boston Globe: ``We're trying to solve this thing. We're close to being there. But this is not over. We're waiting for finality. There's still a ways to go.''

Earlier this week, the Rev. Jesse Jackson demanded a meeting with Summers to discuss Harvard's commitment to diversity. Summers agreed to a meeting, though no date was set.

On Wednesday, Summers released a statement pledging his commitment to diversity and vowing to keep the Afro-American studies department intact.

Summers, a former U.S. Treasury Secretary, replaced Neil Rudenstine, who built the Afro-American studies department by luring Gates from Duke University. Gates then filled the department with other top scholars.



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