- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 3, 2002

The Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton yesterday accused Harvard University's new president of infringing on "academic freedom" and refusing to embrace affirmative action.

Lawrence H. Summers, a former Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration, reportedly asked Cornel West to devote more time to his role as professor of Afro-American studies and philosophy and religion.

Mr. Summers is said to have questioned Mr. West about his involvement in plans for a Sharpton presidential campaign and about a compact disc of rap music the professor issued last year.

"If Summers doesn't come back and remedy this, it will be a big black eye to Harvard," Mr. Sharpton said yesterday. "The question he needs to ask himself is how he can do that without infringing on Mr. West's right to express himself as an academic."

Mr. Summers also is under fire from both black faculty and the civil rights community for a perceived failure to properly stress the importance of affirmative action at Harvard, believed by many to have the nation's premier black-studies department.

"I take pride in Harvard's long-standing commitment to diversity," Mr. Summers said yesterday in a statement. "Diversity contributes to educational excellence by enabling outstanding students, faculty and staff of all backgrounds to come together and learn from one another. I look forward to working with colleagues at Harvard and elsewhere to promote ever-greater opportunity for all."

A university source said that on two occasions, Mr. Summers refused to explicitly state his approval of affirmative action, which the Harvard faculty refers to as "excellence in diversity."

"There are two issues here, one of academic freedom and one of affirmative action," Mr. Jackson said yesterday. "We had Cornel West leaving a meeting with Mr. Summers feeling aggrieved. And [Mr. Summers], at his inaugural address, was not forthright enough about the role of affirmative action, which helped establish this [W.E.B.] Du Bois Institute.''

The Du Bois Institute is Harvard's school for black studies.

In a New Year's Day speech at St. Paul's A.M.E. Church in Cambridge, Mass., Mr. Jackson alluded to Harvard's "uncertainty about affirmative action" and called it "disturbing."

Mr. Summers risks losing several key professors from the Du Bois Institute, Mr. Jackson said.

He also suggested there were political motives for Mr. Summers' actions. Mr. West worked for Bill Bradley's failed 2000 presidential bid and is leading a presidential-exploratory committee for Mr. Sharpton.

"Summers was a Clinton appointee. He would oppose anyone who would oppose Al Gore," Mr. Sharpton said.

If he decides to run for president in 2004, Mr. Sharpton could face Mr. Gore, the former vice president, in the Democratic primary.

"I myself feel aggrieved," Mr. Sharpton said, "if I can't have who I want to have work for me."

When Mr. Summers took office in October, he called Mr. West into a meeting to ask him about his recently released hip-hop CD and his political activities, according to published reports. Mr. West was asked to devote more time to his work at Harvard.

He also was asked about grade inflation in his introductory black-studies course, in which a reported 50 percent of students receive A or A-minus grades.

But Mr. West, who could not be reached yesterday, said the mid-October meeting left him feeling as if his academic freedom was under attack.

The 47-year-old Harvard graduate last September released "Sketches of My Culture," a blend of rap and spoken word, on an independent record label. At the time, he told an interviewer, "I don't fool myself and think I'm a hip-hopper or nothing."

Mr. West, who was hired at Harvard in 1994, was defended yesterday by Henry Louis Gates Jr., who chairs the black-studies program.

"He takes on more classes than anyone else, and he has missed one class since he came here, when he had permission to be in Ethiopia," Mr. Gates said.

Mr. Summers was out of town this week and unable to meet with Mr. Jackson. He reportedly has agreed to a meeting with the civil rights leader.


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