Wasted Opportunity: Dysfunction and Layoffs at Ibram Kendi’s Center for Antiracist Research
A Dream Job Turned Nightmare
Working at Ibram Kendi’s Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University was supposed to be a dream job for Philippe Copeland. As a junior faculty member with a modest public profile, Copeland was elated to receive an invitation to join the academic rockstar’s new center. However, his initial excitement quickly turned to disappointment and frustration as he witnessed the dysfunction and experienced the contradictory directives that plagued the center.
A Center in Crisis
The Center for Antiracist Research was intended to be a leader in advancing antiracist workforce development and academic programs in antiracism studies. However, Copeland observed that leadership decisions lacked adequate explanation and seemed to make no sense at all. Despite his best efforts to contribute his expertise and express concerns, he found his recommendations going unheard and the center reverting to a state of disarray.
What Copeland experienced was not unique. Many others at the Center for Antiracist Research also shared the sentiment of discontent. Significant leadership positions were abruptly vacated, indicating a deeper problem within the organization. Copeland initially chalked it up to growing pains, but as time went on, it became evident that the center was unable to address the issues and improve its operations.
A Tale of Missed Opportunities
The dysfunction at the center hampered Copeland’s efforts to develop quality training programs and academic programs in antiracism studies. The lack of competitive salaries and inadequate human and financial resources hindered the recruitment of talented individuals. Additionally, Copeland’s concerns about the need for antiracist education at the undergraduate level were disregarded, resulting in a missed opportunity to make a more comprehensive impact.
A Single Success Amidst the Chaos
Despite the obstacles, Copeland successfully launched a fellowship that aimed to train faculty in antiracist pedagogy. This initiative, a collaborative effort between the Center for Antiracist Research, the Center for Teaching and Learning, and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, had a positive impact on the university. However, Copeland’s joy was short-lived, as he was informed that he could no longer be part of the leadership of the fellowship he created, a decision that remains unexplained.
Celebrity versus Leadership
Copeland reflects on the phenomenon of celebrity and its seductive allure. He cautions against mistaking popularity for leadership ability and emphasizes the importance of taking responsibility for creating real change. Antiracism, he asserts, is not a buzzword or a branding exercise, but a matter of life and death. Institutions that engage in performative actions rather than genuine commitment only contribute to the undermining of the antiracist movement.
A Critical Moment for Boston University
The recent layoffs at the Center for Antiracist Research come at a critical juncture. In the face of an escalating racist backlash, Boston University has a choice to make. It can engage in damage control, launching an inquiry that fails to lead to meaningful change and perpetuates a cycle of dysfunction. Alternatively, it can commit to a process of transformative justice, taking responsibility for the harm caused and actively working to repair it. Such a process must involve all those who have been harmed, including staff, faculty, and community partners.
The Need for Real Change
Boston University has an opportunity to demonstrate true leadership and commitment to antiracism. Copeland reminds the university that students are watching and calls on them to make an authentic choice that aligns with their values.
A Cautionary Tale and a Call to Action
The dysfunction and layoffs at Ibram Kendi’s Center for Antiracist Research should serve as a cautionary tale for institutions and individuals who see antiracism as a mere PR campaign or a path to personal promotion. The wounds inflicted by the center’s missteps can be healed, but it requires a genuine commitment to transformative justice. Only by taking responsibility and actively working to repair the harm can Boston University regain its reputation and make a true impact in the fight against racism.
Contact Phillipe Copeland at @PTheeEducator.
<< photo by Elisa Calvet B. >>
The image is for illustrative purposes only and does not depict the actual situation.
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