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Response to Provost Memo on Africana Studies and Trotter Institute


Dear FSU Members,

The below response is from the Executive Committees of both the CLA Senate and the FSU, as well as the outgoing Chair of the Faculty Council.


Dear Colleagues,

As the outgoing Chair of the Faculty Council and the Executive Committees of the College of Liberal Arts Senate and Faculty Staff Union, we write in response to Provost Berger’s May 17th memo regarding Africana Studies and the Trotter Institute that was sent via email to the entire campus (see also attached).

While the memo paints a rosy picture of the Administration’s ostensible support of Africana Studies, it contains very little new information or commitment to Africana Studies that has not already been shared with members of that department. Moreover, this memo functions to ignore the cancellation of two Africana Studies hires—and the Administration ignoring faculty concerns about these cancellations—by recycling old information that addresses neither the immediate needs of the department nor the erosion of shared governance and faculty autonomy that the cancellation of the two hires represents.

In May, the Faculty Council and the CLA Senate passed identical resolutions—which were distributed to all faculty by the FSU—conveying to the Provost the importance of re-instating the two canceled searches for new faculty in Africana Studies (see attached). While the Provost acknowledged receipt of these resolutions, he did not respond in any substantive way to their content.

This non-response is replicated and magnified in the Provost’s recent all-campus memo, which ignores the actual concerns raised by both the Africana Studies Department and the Search Committee. Specifically, the Provost’s memo fails to address why two searches were abruptly canceled and why they cannot be immediately re-started when the needs of the department are so urgent.  

In 2017, the Africana Studies Department had the equivalent of 7 full-time tenure-line faculty. Today, the department has 1.5 tenure-line faculty. As presented in the memo, the Provost’s proposal for Africana Studies includes 3 new hires. However, the process for these hires will not begin until fall 2022, and then only with the search for one senior hire; the two additional searches will take place the year after that. Given their drastic need, the demand of Africana Studies is to reinstate the two cancelled searches immediately. If this year’s two searches are not re-instated now, another entire academic year will pass with Africana Studies still having only 1.5 tenure-line faculty, which is untenable. Moreover, the memo requires the department to have faith that the Administration will not once again cancel these searches as they have repeatedly done—these two searches have both been canceled twice in two years.

Perhaps more importantly, the memo does not explain why the Administration continues to refuse to meet with either the Africana Studies Department to discuss how the department defines its own needs or the Search Committee to explain the cancelation of these searches or find a way to continue them. Regardless of whatever promises are made in this memo, they were not made in consultation with or response to the actual needs, concerns, or requests of faculty in Africana Studies. Indeed, they are at direct odds with the resolutions passed by the relevant faculty representative bodies, who—along with the FSU—stand in solidarity with Africana Studies.

Most concerning, the hiring of lawyers by the central UMass Administration (directly out of President Marty Meehan’s office) to “assess” Africana Studies and the Trotter Institute before any hiring process can resume is an extreme and unacceptable action for which the Administration has offered no justification. Rather, they have refused to meet with a department that has provided key leadership in helping the university to commit to becoming an “anti-racist and health-promoting public university.”  Hiring outside lawyers not only undermines academic freedom and shared governance. It highlights how this administration, instead of working with faculty to forge agreed-upon courses of action in a reparative and collegial way, instead calls in outside parties or relies on the exercise of unaccountable top-down power.

It is difficult to understand how such administrative overreach—particularly in response to the Africana Studies Department’s leadership over this past two years—can be countenanced in these times. The Administration’s actions are not just incompatible with its rhetorical commitment to becoming an “anti-racist and health-promoting” institution. They undermine the trust, the collegiality, and the very possibility of making this vision, and these values, manifest.


FSU Executive Committee

CLA Senate Executive Committee

Heike Schotten, Chair, Faculty Council, 2018-2022