West defies classification to reach beyond the academy

Dec. 9, 2004 3:28 p.m.

Cornel West believes he can't be true to his calling as a teacher and a scholar if his career is limited to classrooms, publishing houses or the traditional academic lecture circuit.

"People want to put you in boxes," West said. "But I don't like to be classified in that narrow way. My calling, in the end, is much deeper than any link to any institution. There is no way that I can confine myself simply to the academy."

West, the Class of 1943 University Professor of Religion, is one of the nation's most widely known and quoted public intellectuals on the topics of American society, race, politics and class issues. His 1993 bestseller, "Race Matters," was regarded as a groundbreaking book that examined the impact of racism on America.

West earned his Ph.D. in philosophy at Princeton in 1980 and was a member of the University's faculty from 1988 through 1994, serving as professor of religion and director of the Program in African-American Studies. In 1996, he was awarded the James Madison Medal, the highest honor Princeton bestows on graduate alumni. He taught at Harvard from 1994 until 2002, when he returned to Princeton.

As an academic and a public intellectual, West said he feels a personal responsibility to reach out to many audiences and contribute to the important topics of the day. "I have a passion to communicate in a critical and self-critical manner about some of the crucial issues facing us," he said. "That is why I move from the classroom to the synagogue to the mosque to prisons and to the streets. That's just my life."

Read the full story in the Weekly Bulletin.

Contact: Eric Quinones (609) 258-3601