In a dispute eerily reminiscent of the one between Larry Summers and Cornel West, Chicago literary and civil rights icon Haki Madhubuti resigned last week as an educator at Chicago State University after 26 years, citing vengefulness on the part of his new boss.
"This is a difficult time for me. Because of circumstances beyond my control, I have been forced to seek early retirement," Madhubuti said in a statement issued to attendees of the Gwendolyn Brooks Conference for Black Literature and Creative Writing. He is 68 years old.
"On June 22 , 2009, I issued an open letter to the University community, in regards to the appointment of our current president, Dr. Wayne Watson," said the Third World Press founder and Chicago Public Schools charter operator. "I questioned in no uncertain language the flawed and undemocratic process in which he was selected. I was as fully aware when I issued the letter as I am now that all actions have consequences."
First reported by Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell, Madhubuti said his split from the University came after Watson, who took the helm of the South Side institution last year, demoted him.
Madhubuti is one of the world's best-selling authors of poetry and non-fiction, with books in print in excess of 3 million.
He began his career in publishing when he met poet Gwendolyn Brooks, who encouraged him to publish a collection of poetry. Madhubuti self-published and distributed "Think Black." He sold several hundred copies within a week. A year later, in 1967, he and two partners launched Third World Press in the basement of his Chicago apartment with $400 and a mimeograph machine. The publishing house set a precedent for publishing black authors, including literary greats such as Amiri Baraka, Gwendolyn Brooks and Chancellor Williams.
Madhubuti is also the co-founder of the Institute of Positive Education/New Concept Development Center and co-founder of Betty Shabazz International Charter School, founder and board member of the National Association of Black Book Publishers and founder and director of the National Black Writers Retreat, among other projects, including a private preschool he founded with his wife.
He was employed at the school at a salary of more than $100k, which is customary for professors who bring prestige to universities. These level of professors are required to pursue scholarly pursuits outside of the classroom, and at many elite institutions, are given a lighter course load. The results are two-fold: it brings more students to the university and students get the opportunity to work with professors who actually work in the field.
Madhubuti said Watson demanded he teach four courses a semester-rather than one-removed him from the paid staff of the Gwendolyn Brooks Center he founded and reduced him to volunteer status with the master's program in creative writing that he co-founded.
"I am convinced that this move against me is personal and vindictive," Madhubuti said. "Although I did agree to increase my course load, I rejected the points that removed me from the structures I founded and co-founded at the university."
On Madhubuti's decision to leave, Dr. Watson said, "That is his decision. I am only asking him to teach."
Madhubuti has filed a grievance against the university.
Should Madhubuti have stayed at the university? Is there a good reason for removing someone from a program that he founded?