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Cornel West has troubling views on academic freedom – now he wants to be president

Cornel West doesn’t want professors to get money from oil companies – now he wants to lead the country

A declared opponent of the rights of professors to engage in research with money from the oil and gas industry is now running for the presidency.

Leftist Professor Cornel West announced he is running as a candidate for the People’s Party and he currently teaches at Union Theological Seminary.

While he has no chance of ever being president, the candidate’s opposition to an aspect of academic freedom should raise concerns. Despite releasing statements and joining groups that support “academic freedom,” his recent record on the issue should raise alarms, particularly for right-leaning professors.

Professor West was a prominent signer of a petition in 2022 that demanded American and British universities ban donations from oil and gas companies.

If implemented, the ban would directly target academics who raise questions about the scope of climate change or potential solutions. Fossil Free Research wanted universities “to institute a ban on accepting fossil fuel industry funding for climate change, environmental, and energy policy research,” The College Fix previously reported.

West’s signature was at odds with the much-praised academic freedom statement he put out with conservative Princeton University Professor Robert George in 2017. Both are founding members of the Academic Freedom Alliance.

The Fix has sought multiple times since 2022 to get clarity from West on his position on academic freedom and how it may or may not conflict with his calls to ban academics from receiving money from certain industries. He has never responded, nor has Professor George responded to requests for comment on his friend’s apparently contradictory statements.

Targeted campaigns to defund academic research violate academic freedom, according to two separate groups.

The American Association of University Professors pointed The Fix to its guide on academic research. It promotes conflict of interest statements instead of funding bans and the group noted it had opposed previous efforts by activists to restrict tobacco industry funding.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression also told The Fix in April that “faculty must have sole power over the direction of their research, including seeking funding.”

The Academic Freedom Alliance, founded with George and West’s help, told The Fix in April it “[did] not have a position to share on this topic at this time.”

The 2024 presidential election will likely include important debates about education, such as whether men should be allowed to compete against female athletes and watch them undress in the locker room and whether states must fund all sorts of weird and anti-white curriculum and programs.

If West wants to become a serious candidate and support free speech, he needs to clarify and explain why he opposes the academic freedom rights of some scholars.

MORE: ‘Academic freedom’ supporters should try to be a bit more authentic

IMAGE: The Hill/YouTube

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Matt has previously worked at Students for Life of America, Students for Life Action and Turning Point USA. While in college, he wrote for The College Fix as well as his college newspaper, The Loyola Phoenix. He holds a B.A. from Loyola University-Chicago and an M.A. from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He lives in northwest Indiana with his family.