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Jewish World Review Jan. 9, 2002 /25 Teves 5762

Don Feder

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Harvard races to appease

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- HARVARD President Lawrence Summers must feel like a damned fool after allowing himself to be bulldozed by Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. But when it comes to racial appeasement, no form of self-abasement is too obscene.

Summers' capitulation capped a week-long controversy that, according to The New York Times, "threatened to cost the university its team of celebrated African-American scholars." Said scholars were incensed by an October meeting between Summers and Prof. Cornel West, one of their number.

The former treasury secretary is alleged to have questioned West's decision to chair Sharpton's presidential exploratory committee. Summers also reportedly wondered if West could find something more scholarly to do than cut a rap album.

This had the scholars hip-hopping mad and threatening a mass exodus to Princeton. But first, they brought in the heavy guns.

At a Cambridge news conference on Jan. 1, Jackson said Harvard's "uncertainty about affirmative action" (Summers had been there six whole months and had yet to blow kisses to quotas) was "disturbing." He called on the school to prove its commitment with a conference on "racial justice."

Sharpton was equally disturbed by purported interference with his campaign and threatened to sue.

Normal people would be flattered by the opposition of these sleazy demagogues. Jackson's own extracurricular activities include fathering a child out of wedlock and shaking down corporations to benefit family and friends. It's surprising the reverend didn't also demand a beer distributorship in Harvard yard for his sons.

The only difference between Sharpton and David Duke, besides the obvious, is that nobody was ever died as the result of the latter's antics. By fanning the flames of anti-Semitism in the New York neighborhood of Crown Heights, Sharpton's actions led to the lynching of a Hasidic Jew during the 1991 pogrom. In 1995, eight people died when one of his more deranged followers shot up and set fire to a Harlem store Sharpton and his goons had targeted.

Perhaps Summers was afraid Sharpton would accuse him of getting frisky with Tawana Brawley, whose fictitious rape was among the race-baiter's more notorious hoaxes.

Faced with the censure of these moral authorities, Summers collapsed. He met with West again last week, said soothing things about "diversity" and declared his dedication to making Harvard "an attractive intellectual environment for African-American studies."

The juxtaposition of African-American studies and intellectual environment is an oxymoron. Like Women's studies, African-American studies is guided by ideology, not scholarship. Not that West indoctrinates his students. He's far too muddled for that.

In an October speech at Harvard's Kennedy School, West commented on Sept. 11. Annoyed by spending on victims of the attack, the professor declared, "Sounds an awful lot like reparations to me." Meaning, presumably, that financial aid for 9-11 survivors and victims' families is the same as racial spoils for the distant descendants of slaves. Huh?

Actually, this is West at his most articulate. The New Republic's Leon Wieseltier describes the professor's writing as "noisy, tedious, slippery ... humorless, pedantic and self-endeared."

From the "Cornel West Reader" comes this gem: Anton Chekhov's "magisterial depiction of the cold Cosmos, indifferent Nature, crushing Fate and cruel histories that circumscribe desperate, bored, confused and anxiety-ridden yet love-hungry people, who try to endure against all odds, rings true to me." For such clarity of expression, Harvard has made West a "University Professor" -- a distinction awarded to only 14 out of more than 2,000 academics.

There are distinguished black intellectuals, like sociologist Thomas Sowell and social critic Shelby Steele. Because their ideas aren't colored by racial resentment, most can't get teaching assistant jobs at junior colleges.

Early on, Summers said some sensible things about the military that offered hope his tenure would provide an antidote to Ivy League insanity. Instead, as his handling of the West controversy demonstrates, he is another pushover for the campus left bent on enforcing political orthodoxy.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.


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© 2002, Creators Syndicate