The award-winning author and academic Ibram X. Kendi has been a lightning rod for public discourse since publishing his book “How to Be an Antiracist” in 2019. But in September, the praise and criticism reached new intensity when Boston University acknowledged layoffs at the center he runs there along with a change to its operating model.
The news prompted former colleagues and current collaborators to publicly question the BU Center for Antiracist Research’s ability to deliver on the promises it had made to funders. In news reports and op-eds, some former colleagues said too much power was concentrated in Kendi’s hands. People and organizations that oppose racial equity piled on.
Earlier this month, the university said an initial inquiry found no issues with how the center managed its finances.
Acknowledging the layoffs in September, the university and Kendi said it was not financially sustainable to conduct research and develop programs with its own employees, despite having raised more than $50 million for the center since its founding in 2020. Instead, the center will host academics for nine-month fellowships. The center will no longer develop a Master’s program in antiracism studies curriculum, an academic minor for undergraduates or a database of antiracist campaigns across the U.S.
Despite the hubbub, none of the center’s funders have raised public concerns about its work. Grantmakers and advocates for racial justice within philanthropy said the center’s problems don’t represent a larger trend about donations made in 2020 around racial justice, especially given that it’s not usual for new organizations to have growing pains.
Earl Lewis, a historian and former president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, who now runs the University of Michigan Center for Social Solutions, said it was not at all unusual for a new leader and a new organization to confront the constraints of time and money and recalibrate their plans.
“It’s just fascinating to me…..