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The Point: “Another Self-Inflicted Embarrassment”


Greetings, Colleagues:

Crisis point? Tipping point? Inflection point?  Call it what you want, but it is really time for all faculty and librarians at UMB and concerned members of the wider community to take notice of what great harm our administration is doing to our colleagues in Africana Studies and, by extension, what great harm they are doing to our students.  Given the horribly disruptive construction projects we have all been living with in the recent past it is tempting to say that management on campus is gutting the department “down to the studs.”

But it’s not clear that even this much will be left if they keep on going in this direction, at this pace.

Some highlights (lowlights?) of the administrative fiat of the recent past:

  • Cancelled two job searches with very little explanation…twice
  • Ordered outside assessment by a high-price management-side law firm which brags of its ability to help keep workplaces union-free
  • Released only a summary of this outside assessment and refused to release entire report
  • Removed elected chair of the department from his position without substantiated cause
  • Oversaw reduction of full-time tenured and tenure-stream faculty from 7 to 1
  • “Rewarded” a well-respected colleague (recently acknowledged with a Chancellor’s Award for Distinguished Service for his “landmark role” in campus antiracism work) with a demotion and a cruel reduction in salary
  • Refused to meet with department faculty members for over one year
  • Planned for the future of the department without consulting members of the department and with no apparent effort to inform the rest of the faculty on campus about these plans

At a recent meeting with administrators, department faculty and union representatives were informed that three senior searches will soon be:

  • Carried out by one search committee with no department input
  • Comprised of faculty from outside the department
  • Overseen by….well, we still don’t know
  • Charged with completing their work and hiring new faculty by January
  • Structured in a manner that ignores shared governance as practiced in the university for years prior to this administration

This all begs a number of questions, but for now the FSU will send a direct communication to the provost, our chief academic officer, requesting that he make transparent how exactly all of this is supposed to happen. We know that distinct search committees need distinct members with a range of experiences and expertise for successful completion. We know (and our Academic Personnel Policy—aka “the Red Book” could not be more clear on this) that searches are supposed to be solidly in faculty purview:

“The faculty has primary responsibility in matters of faculty status, such as appointments, reappointments, promotions, tenure and salary adjustments.”

Additionally, searches on the proposed truncated timeline cannot possibly yield appropriate candidates, unless the searches have already been scripted, with administration-approved candidates ready to answer the call.  These have been described as senior hires to be made in a hurry: we have concerns about searches that encourage colleagues to abandon commitments they might have for the academic year on other campuses.  We also wonder when and how administration will explain to UMB colleagues who have already put in dozens of hours to searches in Africana Studies in the past few years why their work has been erased.

The new search committees formed must respect the independence of the Africana Studies department and the voice of the College of Liberal Arts faculty more generally.  The FSU, Faculty Council, and CLA Faculty Senate must have a shaping role in determining the job descriptions and the constitution of the search committees. Anything less will mean that we have acceded to the apparent wishes of our managers—not just the Chancellor and the Provost, but also the lawyers they hired—to move us into a post-shared governance era. 

Remember that successful conclusion to the mediation that upper administration engaged in with Faculty Council last spring? That is beginning to look, on the part of our managers, more and more like a very empty gesture of performative virtue.

It is long past time for faculty and staff to stand together to push back against the insults and depredations upper administration has visited upon our colleagues in Africana Studies—especially given that all of this is unfolding in the same moment that our leaders have released a new strategic plan that lists “Antiracist and Health-Promoting Culture” as a primary commitment. 

We want to close with some words from our esteemed colleague Professor Tim Sieber, a recently retired member of the Anthropology department and former member of the FSU ExCom.  If you know Tim, you know that among his many virtues, he always listens hard and usually speaks quietly—if firmly.  Tim is not speaking quietly anymore:

Here is what he recently wrote to the Chancellor, Provost, and CLA Dean.

Chancellor, let me address this mainly to you, as UMB's CEO.  I'm shocked and outraged that you have let the academic administrators below you - who are also included on this message -- to treat my esteemed faculty colleagues in Africana Studies with such disrespect and even cruelty -- and all under the feigned, hypocritical stance of "investing" in the department and in Africana Studies’ presence on campus.  That department does not deserve -- and indeed no academic department deserves -- to be treated in such an autocratic manner and given little to no chance to chart its own fortunes.  This conduct makes a total mockery of "shared governance," as well as academic credentials and freedom. Your administration's acting this way is an insult to any thinking faculty member and our commitment to our University, and after all, most of us have much more longevity here than any of you.  We care about UMB…

You would not do this to any other department. In fact, in my 48 years at UMB, I have never seen the administration treat any group of faculty members, or academic program, with such ongoing prejudice and disrespect as you all -- Chancellor, Provost, and Dean -- have been treating this one…It is truly unprecedented, and I feel ashamed for our institution to be doing this to a department whose voice today is more important than ever in helping to lead the university in new directions -- and to think, you Chancellor talk all the time about our commitment to "anti-racism"!...

You are creating very unwelcome harm to our university's image, and it is obvious to the wider community inside and outside of campus that this is simply a continuation of unjustified racially disparate treatment of Africana Studies – yes, that’s right:  racism – whatever you might say or do to try to cover that up.  It's just a matter of time before this becomes, once again, news on a local, statewide, and national level:   another self-inflicted embarrassment to UMass Boston. 

Please stay tuned for additional communications about actions you can take to push back against this administrative overreach.

In the meantime, please reach out to Chancellor Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, Provost Joseph Berger, and CLA Dean Tyson King-Meadows to express your concerns about the current situation. 

This is your union. Please let us know at how you think we can all best support our colleagues in Africana Studies.


The Faculty Staff Union Executive Committee

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