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UC Endorses Petitions in Support of Cornel West and Against Statements by J. Mark Ramseyer

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The Undergraduate Council voted to endorse a pair of statements during its Sunday night meeting — one supporting a petition to grant tenure to Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy Cornel R. West ’74, and another to condemn statements made by Harvard Law professor J. Mark Ramseyer.

The first piece of legislation demands the University “reopen pathways for Professor West’s tenure and further commit to advancing racial justice in substantive ways.”

West recently threatened to leave Harvard for the second time after he said the University dismissed his request to be considered for tenure. He held Harvard’s highest faculty rank, University Professor, before leaving Harvard in 2002 following a high-profile spat with then-University president Lawrence H. “Larry” Summers. West returned as a Professor of the Practice in 2017, a position that lacks tenure.

West’s intellectual and scholarly contributions to the academic field and to Harvard are “of the first order eminence,” the statement reads, quoting language from the FAS tenure handbook.

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The legislation spurred debate among the UC members, particularly Pforzheimer House Representative Sarah Bolnick ’23, who claimed West to be a controversial figure due to his stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict. West has been outspoken in his criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

Ivy Yard Representative Arjun A. Akwei ’24, the legislation’s sponsor, came to West’s defense, arguing that past controversial figures have received different responses from the administration than West.

The statement demands Harvard abolish the ad-hoc committee in the tenure process — a group of faculty chaired by the University president or provost, whose composition is secret, that makes a final decision in most tenure cases — as well as recruit more Black scholars, and establish an Ethnic Studies department, including an undergraduate concentration.

“These are only the preliminary steps that Harvard must take in order to rectify its centuries-long history of racism and move toward restoring its relationship with Black and Brown students and scholars,” reads the statement.

Sponsored by Akwei, UC President Noah Harris ’22, Kirkland House Representative Jacqueline F. Tubbs ’22, Oak Yard Representative Kimani E. Panthier ’24, and Oak Yard Representative Travis A. Johnson ’24, the legislation passed with a vote of 17-2-11.

The second piece of legislation endorsed a recent petition by the Harvard Korean International Student Association against Harvard Law School professor J. Mark Ramseyer’s controversial journal article titled “Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War,” in which he argues sex slaves taken by the Japanese Army during World War II were actually contracted sex workers.

The UC statement criticized the article — which has drawn worldwide criticism from academics and politicians — as “contrafactual.”

“Professor Ramseyer’s article debilitates the integrity of legal and historical scholarship,” the statement reads.

The UC and other signatories on the statement call on Ramseyer to formally apologize, for Harvard University President Lawrence S. Bacow, and Law School Dean John F. Manning ’82 to “officially address” the article, and for the International Review of Law and Economics — the scholarly journal that published the story — to recognize the “possible shortcomings” of the article.

The endorsement was sponsored by Cabot House Representative Brooke Lee Livingston ’23, Crimson Yard Representative Jane J. Oh ’24, Elm Yard Representative Emmy M. Cho ’24, who is also a Crimson News Editor, Mather House Representative David J. Chung ’22, and Quincy House Representative Soy Choi ’23.

The act was passed by a vote of unanimous consent.

The UC also passed legislation calling the Harvard Program in General Education to restore the course Gen Ed 1076: “Dilemmas of Equity and Excellence in American K-12 Education” after administrators cut the course from the College’s offerings in 2021.

The legislation states that the Gen Ed 1076 acts as a gateway course for the Education secondary and that it has been deemed as “life-changing” course by some who took it, and asks the FAS to collaborate with the UC to raise and allocate funding needed to offer the course again.

Sponsored by Quincy House Representative Michael Y. Cheng ’22, Adams House Representative Esther J. Xiang ’22, Currier House Representative Jack M. Swanson ’22, and Panthier, the legislation passed by a vote of 31-1-2.

—Staff writer Mayesha R. Soshi can be reached at mayesha.soshi@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Lucas J. Walsh can be reached at lucas.walsh@thecrimson.com.

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