BOSTON – In what is shaping up as one of the biggest temper tantrums in years at America’s most prestigious university, a handful of prominent black professors at Harvard are threatening to quit because of what they say are slights from new President Lawrence H. Summers.
Cornel West, Henry Louis Gates and K. Anthony Appiah — all members of Harvard's vaunted Afro-American Studies Department — say Summers, who took the job in October, does not sufficiently support the university’s affirmative action programs.
Leading the snit is West, who is also irked because Summers reportedly rebuked him for recording a rap CD, for leading a political committee for the Rev. Al Sharpton's possible presidential campaign, and for inflating the grades of students in his black studies course.
Charging into the fray this week were the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Sharpton, both of whom have demanded to meet with Summers seeking “clarification” of Harvard's commitment to diversity.
Sharpton said he is considering filing a lawsuit against the school as an “aggrieved party.” He said that if Summers, in fact, rebukee West for chairing his presidential exploratory committee, it could hurt his chances in the 2004 campaign.
In another twist, the Boston Globe reported Thursday that Hispanic professors have now piled on Summers. They are reportedly angered about his lukewarm reaction to the idea of creating a Center for Latino Studies. Summers told the Globe he's not backing the center at the moment because he's waiting for Harvard's new provost to take office and review all interdisciplinary programs.
"A lot of us are clearly disappointed and a little hurt that the administration has failed to recognize the importance of this," Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, an education professor and chairman of the school's interfaculty committee on Latino studies, told the paper.
Wednesday, Summers was forced to issue a statement saying Harvard remains fully committed to diversity and will "compete vigorously" to keep Afro-American studies faculty members. Harvard is "proud of this program collectively and of each of its individual members," Summers said. "We would very much like to see the current faculty stay at Harvard and will compete vigorously to make this an attractive environment."
The Globe reported late last month that some members of the Afro-American Studies Department are upset at Summers and are threatening to decamp to Princeton University in New Jersey.
Summers and a university spokesman have called the entire episode a misunderstanding. Wednesday’s statement touted the school’s admissions policies as being a model in promoting racial and other forms of diversity on campus.
"Diversity contributes to educational excellence by enabling outstanding students, faculty and staff of all backgrounds to come together and learn from one another," Summers said. "I look forward to working with colleagues at Harvard and elsewhere to promote even greater opportunity for all."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.