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The Point: The Administration Must be Held Accountable


This week’s Point was written by Professors Keith Jones and Tony Van Der Meer of the  Africana Studies Department.

For the past few years, UMass Boston’s administration, which had agreed to commit to the process of becoming “a leading anti-racist and health-promoting public research institution,” has systematically betrayed their purported commitment.

Repeated attacks on the Africana Studies Department by the administration have sought to undermine not merely our leadership but the very vision of a transformed campus culture we helped to organize around in the Undoing Racism Assembly. This broad campus-wide coalition included graduate and undergraduate students, tenured and non-tenured faculty, the various unions (the FSU, PSU, CSU, and GEO) as well as administrators. The coalition called for specific curricular interventions, campus-wide anti-racist trainings, and equity for faculty and staff of color, particularly for Black women and women of color based upon the FSU’s 2016 report.

Since this time, and as a result of the efforts led by faculty in the Africana Studies Department, we have experienced repeated retaliation, harassment, discrimination, intimidation, and disrespect. Indeed, the attack on our department has been strategic on the part of the administration. They have sought to distract attention away from the work that a cross-campus coalition, which we helped to lead, called upon them to do. In attacking us, they have tried to undermine our capacity to help lead a broader campus-wide vision of a transformed campus culture.

Often silenced by this narrative of our department as “pathological” is the fact that we helped to author a Restorative Justice Initiative (RJI) report, as well as a Restorative Justice Framework, in the midst of the pandemic and George-Floyd uprisings to provide a different pathway forward for the university in a time of crisis. Placed on the then-incoming Chancellor’s desk (Marcelo Suárez-Orozco) on August 14, 2020, we and our colleagues on the Academic Continuity Task Force (ACTF) submitted a 10-year, 10-million-dollar RJI proposal that recommended specific interventions necessary for committing the university to the process of becoming “a leading anti-racist and health-promoting public research institution.” The current Provost Joseph Berger, who was the then-Dean of the College of Education and Human Development overseeing the task force out of which this report emerged, once professed to champion this vision. The truth, however, is that, to this day, we have never met with the Chancellor regarding this report’s recommendations. Moreover, the Provost, who once declared this vision his priority, has refused to meet with us regarding its implementation. 

The Restorative Justice Commission (RJC), which emerged out of these recommendations (AY 2020-2021), has been allocated $275,000 per year. The administration has also paid nearly $250,000 on a secret report used both to discredit the Africana Studies Department and to justify its hostile takeover. It has additionally spent up to $2 million dollars for a new “For the Times” marketing campaign. While we may now have a “comfort dog” on campus, we have yet to experience any progress regarding the curricular interventions, campus-wide anti-racist trainings, and equity proposals called for in the original initiatives.

As opposed to a genuine and good-faith investment in this work, the administration, instead, has hired more administrators to control the process and bypass the grassroots union-based movement we were trying to help create.

Yet, even under such assault, we have been steadfast in trying to continue the work and carry forward the vision of a transformed campus culture—for all community members, but especially for our students and staff.

Our legal filing of a Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) complaint comes after repeated efforts to engage in a restorative approach with the administration. For two years, the administration has refused multiple requests not only by us and our lawyer but by our community advisory board as well as other community members and elected officials to meet and reconcile our differences. Indeed, multiple letters by our supporters have sought a way forward to repair the situation only to have been met by the administration’s silence.

The attack on our department, which is really an attack on our shared vision, profoundly undermines the principle of shared governance, and it reflects a campus culture increasingly characterized by intimidation and silencing.

Aggression toward any one of our members is an aggression against the union itself. We must stand together, on principle, and commit to the belief that a just and equitable campus, and world, is not only possible but achievable through principled unity!

On April 29th (from 12-2pm), as part of the FSU’s Anti-Racism Grant initiatives, we will be organizing a panel centering the experience of various leaders from regional and national “Bargaining for the Common Good” campaigns. We hope this panel discussion will be an opportunity for us as a union to learn from others’ experiences in organizing for the common good. Indeed, all the work we committed to as part of our collective “anti-racism and health-promoting” vision, we believe, is grounded in a principled commitment to the “common good.”

We are asking union leadership along with other faculty bodies to stand in solidarity with us. We are asking that the FSU make a strong statement condemning both the administration’s hostility toward our department and their undermining of our leadership and vision.

Such hostility and retaliation toward any of our members should be roundly condemned as unacceptable.

Attached is a recent press release and fact sheet regarding our MCAD complaints.

On this campus and beyond, the changes we urgently need will only happen with principled solidarity.