GEO believes that as a public research institution, the University of Massachusetts, Boston (UMB) should continue and extend its history of shared governance. In earlier iterations of this institution, the faculty’s role in governance was much larger than it is today. It was the faculty which made us a ‘research university with a teaching soul’. This past history of shared governance is partly why we have a strong Faculty Council today. It is this same strength that some fear, and it is this very fear which holds us back from achieving our aspirations and long-term visions.
Thus it was with great concern that many of us in the graduate student community read the joint statement released by Chancellor Marcelo Suárez-Orozco and Provost Joe Berger on Thursday, February 10, 2022. Upon further investigation, this concern turned into disappointment and dismay. The statement accused members of the Faculty Council of behaving in a racist manner during their previous meeting. In fact, this charge of racism was levied to shield themselves from criticism of their leadership practices. In doing so, they used racist tropes to discourage faculty from speaking out about leadership decisions.
Their statement continued on to espouse a goal of becoming an anti-racist institution, yet their actions are not in line with this objective. We are not the only ones disappointed; we’re sure many of you have seen the responses put out by other unions and student groups on campus. (We encourage those interested to click here to see a transcript from the meeting and emails from the FSU.)
While we at GEO couldn’t agree more that we must aspire to be anti-racist, we feel it necessary to point out that this statement itself exhibits racist character and perpetuates racist tropes. GEO had representatives attend the Faculty Council meeting in question. At no time did we feel the legitimate concerns of faculty were racially motivated. The concerns of faculty were rooted in principles of shared governance. The critiques they leveled were not directed at Dr. Tyson King-Meadows, but rather at the Provost and Chancellor for ignoring faculty requests to be included in the process of selecting a search committee chair. Not who was chosen, but how they were chosen. The critique was not undue scrutiny of Dr. King-Meadows, in fact his credentials never were discussed; it was legitimate and necessary scrutiny of the selection process used by the Chancellor and the Provost. It was criticism of dictatorial imperatives instead of democratic ideals.
UMB is currently filling a large number of senior leadership roles, particularly Deans, to oversee different campus colleges. Many faculty believe, as graduate students do, that the people who work in these colleges deserve to have their voices heard. They should have a role in the process.
Leaders exist at all levels of an organization. Leaders stand up for what they feel is right, exhibit character in the face of adversity, and dare to speak truth to power. This is what faculty did when they made it known that ideals of shared governance were not being demonstrated by the Chancellor and the Provost. They did what was right and appropriate by demanding more inclusion of students, staff, and faculty in the process of selecting new college Deans.
Students already have an imbalance of trust and legitimacy at UMB. For many of us, we have chosen this university not for the levels of support we are offered (as the lowest paid in the state and amongst peer institutions), but for the quality of the faculty. It is the faculty advisors that most of us see as our personal beacons guiding us through higher education. The Chancellors and Provosts at UMB continue to deny us reasonable funding, they only put token student representation on governance committees, and they obstruct efforts of the University community to become more anti-racist. The joint statement issued by the Chancellor and Provost last week does not add luster to their character. It reveals their grasping and self-centered actions as a means of dismantling shared governance. It reveals their disdain for the anti-racist efforts of faculty.
We in the GEO issue this statement to show our appreciation for faculty – particularly the Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) faculty who have been fighting against systemic racism for decades. It is not racist to make legitimate criticisms of process and procedure. It is not racist to believe that shared and collective governance is critical in a public research university.
We call on the Chancellor and Provost to make amends for their racist behavior. We implore the University to commit to the process of becoming anti-racist. More than just an apology, if the Chancellor and Provost aspire to help UMB become an anti-racist institution, they need to act. We call on them to adopt and attend the training programs being advocated by the Undoing Racism Assembly and others working to restore justice in our community. They need to ensure that the actions of Thursday, February 10, 2022 are not repeated again. Enough is enough.