Bad Rap

In his Washington Post column Eugene Robinson viciously attacks Larry Summers for his recent comments.

First, is there a pattern here? When Summers arrived at Harvard, one
of his first acts was to dress down one of the university’s best-known
black scholars, Cornel West, for spending too much time on outside
projects and not enough on research. Offended, West decamped to
Princeton University. But Harvard is lousy with peripatetic rock-star
professors. One of Summers’s most vocal defenders is Harvard law school
professor Alan Dershowitz, who found time amid his busy academic
schedule to serve on the O.J. Simpson defense team, for heaven’s sake.
Why start with West? Was he doing anything his white colleagues don’t

Oh, this one is just too easy.  Why yes, Cornel West’s colleagues were not cutting rap albums with Derek "DOA" Allen and Killa Mike.  (“In all modesty, this project constitutes a watershed moment in musical history”).  Nor were they appearing in the movies as wise Councilor West of the last free human city of Zion, or leading a leading a political committee for Al Sharpton’s presidential campaign.  (Sharpton helpfully threatened to sue over the Summers-West donnybrook.)

I’m open to the argument that West is practicing an unorthodox but compelling form of pedagogy.  At the very least he isn’t resting on his laurels but however you slice it the comparison with Dershowitz is bizarre.  Dershowtiz teaches criminal law.  For him to be involved in the "trial of the century" is directly relevant to his work and redounds to Harvard’s advantage.  Who wouldn’t want to study defense law from a master?

Robinson may be offended by Summers’ remarks but his insinuations are unfair and irresponsible.


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