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The Point: Antiracism in Action vs. Antiracism Inaction


Greetings, Colleagues:

This week’s edition of The Point comes to you as a missive from the entire Executive Committee rather than the usual single-author format as a way to try to convey the sense of urgency we feel about the dynamic relationship that obtains among faculty workload, systemic racism and sexism, and campus hiring practices.  In a recent and moving email our Chancellor, along with the Provost, and the Assistant Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, decried the recent spike in hate crimes aimed at Asians and Asian Americans in the United States.  They also reminded us all that “we must…renew our commitment to building an antiracist university and antiracist world.” We members of the Executive Committee trust that these upper administrators are committed to transforming UMass Boston into an antiracist and health-promoting institution; every one of us believes that we are putting our shoulders to the same wheel, pushing in the same direction.

That is why we feel called upon to make a plea for the administration to treat the question of faculty hiring as the pressing matter that it is. While this is, on the face of things, a simple matter of staffing and program building, the issues surrounding recruiting (and retaining) new faculty form a tangled knot constituted of legacies of racism, institutional inertia, and neoliberal practices of competition for resources--pitting departments, units, and colleges against each other in a putative zero-sum battle for allegedly scant resources. 

The most forward-looking and innovative campuses we know of have addressed some of these issues, at least in part, by committing to cluster hires.  The literature on cluster hires seems fairly persuasive regarding how big of an impact they can have on recruiting and retaining faculty members from underrepresented groups and how quickly and profoundly they can change campus curriculum and culture, and faculty retention.  We are particularly impressed by the visionary work being done in this context at (just for instance) the University of Illinois Chicago, where for some years the institution has dedicated itself to cluster hires in interdisciplinary areas including Diaspora Studies, Integrative Neuroscience, and the Racialized Body.  Similarly, we take note of the nine hires made at once in 2019 in the Department of African American Studies at Penn State University. We look at these peer institutions and we being to imagine what is possible right here at our wonderful campus on Columbia Point.

On one level, the occasion for this week’s Point is our evolving understanding of how dire the staffing situation is for the Leadership in Education program in CEHD. We wrote about this briefly a few weeks back but since then we have educated ourselves even more fully: we have learned that from 2017 to 2021 the program dropped from 14 FT faculty members (with two vacancies) to 9.5 FT faculty members (plus 7.5 vacancies).  This program has somewhere around 140 doctoral students (52% of whom are students of color) along with dozens of undergraduate and MA students.  It is, of course, impossible to separate out the racialized and gendered dynamics of the workload and instructional demands from broader questions surrounding social, economic, and cultural hierarchies. This is why the FSU Executive Committee decided to sign on to a powerful letter circulated by the graduate students of that department and encourage all of you to consider doing so as well.  

We call special attention to this program in CEHD not to make a special case for their job searches over the needs of other programs and departments (although we do note that the alignment of this program with UMB’s urban mission is complete and their success rates with graduate students is stunning). We want to use the example of this stripped-to-the-bone program as an occasion to urge the upper administration to treat matters of staffing and workload with the urgency they require.  We recognize this involves complex efforts on many, many levels (government, private development sources, consensus about goals across the administration of our campus and the system office, and so on) but we also know with certainty that this program in CEHD is truly a canary in a coalmine: we will continue to bleed talented people from our campus, overwork remaining faculty members, and—we are concerned—begin to suffer reputational damage (and recruiting losses) in what have been particularly strong areas of our campus offerings. We call on the upper administration to begin acting on the knowledge that appropriate staffing—particularly increasing hiring of faculty of color--is central to our transformation into an antiracist and health-promoting university.

This is your union. Please tell us at what concerns you have about the relationship among faculty workload, systemic racism and sexism, and campus hiring practices.


FSU Executive Committee

For information on the FSU, links to our contract and bargaining updates, and a calendar of events, see the FSU webpage