CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Jan. 2 (UPI) -- Harvard University's new president was under increasing pressure Wednesday from two prominent black leaders to reconcile with three black professors threatening to switch to Princeton University.
While exact details of the source of dissatisfaction between Lawrence Summers and the professors were not disclosed, reports indicated they involved the president's ambivalence toward affirmative action and one professor's support of the presidential ambitions of the Rev. Al Sharpton.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson traveled to Cambridge on New Year's Day to urge Summers to embrace affirmative action, while Sharpton threatened in a letter to sue the school because Summers allegedly criticized Professor Cornel West for leading Sharpton's presidential exploratory committee.
"I don't want to see faculty members intimidated," Sharpton said in Wednesday's Boston Globe. "It struck me as frightening that here, at one of the most respected educational institutions in the world, the president of the university would in some way question a faculty member's private political associations."
Harvard spokesman Joe Wrinn denied Summers was interfering with the political activities of professors, and said he has a "strong belief in intellectual freedom and freedom of expression of all kinds, including political expression."
Sharpton said he was concerned professors at other universities that follow Harvard's lead may feel intimidated if they support his candidacy.
On Tuesday night, Jackson urged Summers to mend fences with West, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Anthony Appiah.
"What I would like him to do is resolve this issue unequivocally," Jackson said in Wednesday's Boston Herald. "Because Harvard is such a tall lightship, the entire world is watching this. My appeal to him is clarity about this critical mass of confusion and leadership."
Jackson said if the professors left for Princeton, it would "blow a hole in the fuselage of academia at Harvard."
Reports indicated the problem stems from a contentious meeting in October during which Summers allegedly rebuked West, a nationally known author described as the "anchor of the African-American studies program at Harvard," for nonacademic activities, including recording a rap CD and his involvement with Sharpton's presidential committee.
Jackson said West "left the meeting feeling violated."
Summers, who took over as Harvard president six months ago, was out of town Tuesday and unable to meet with Jackson. He reportedly has agreed to a meeting with the civil rights leader at a mutually agreeable date to discuss the issues, according to Harvard spokesman Al Powell.