The prominent head of a center for African research at Boston University spoke out Friday about racial issues on campus, criticizing the administration and denying that the center had to be shut down for financial reasons.
The African Presidential Archives and Research Center (APARC) will close this summer because it does not have sufficient funds to continue operating, a spokesman said earlier this week.
But the decision sparked a protest by students and wider attention amidst a roiling debate over bigotry toward both black and white people.
Charles Stith, who served as U.S. ambassador in Tanzania during the Clinton administration and now leads APARC, said the decision to close the center “is reflective of pattern of hostility and discrimination against African Americans that has typified his tenure as president of Boston University. The record is abysmal,” he said, citing the college’s low number of black students compared to peer institutions, and that the percentage of black faculty members is lower now than it was in 1976.
Colin Riley, a university spokesman, said BU’s president, Robert A. Brown, is not biased, to the contrary he is committed to ensuring diversity on campus. The number of African American students has been increasing over the years, he said, and the incoming class is more than 22 percent underrepresented minorities.
Riley earlier this week explained: “Centers and Institutes at BU – and at most universities – are not primarily funded by the university. They operate off grants and other resources provided by external entities.” About a year ago, he explained, they met with Stith to say the center did not have enough money to operate through the fiscal year that ends next month, and that without a new infusion of funding, it would have to close.
The center’s leaders “assured us on several occasions that funding to continue the center was forthcoming, yet it was not,” Riley wrote.
“BU did not ‘de-fund’ APARC. We did, in fact, provide a subsidy to APARC this past year so it would have time and staff to find new sources of external funding. Unfortunately, no new funds were secured, and we regret that APARC is closing as a result.”
Stith defended the center’s fundraising and its impact.
Stith also weighed in the other issue that had some people talking about race at BU recently — the blog SoCawlege had published comments on social media made by an incoming assistant professor that seemed like blatant examples of anti-white bias to some people. (Saida Grundy’s comment “Why is white america so reluctant to identify white college males as a problem population?” triggered particularly intense outrage among alumni and others. And readers were quick to send in other examples they said they had seen on Facebook which offended them.)
BU’s president said he was disappointed in speech that reduces individuals to stereotypes. BU’s faculty union stepped forward to support Grundy’s academic freedom and right to express her thoughts.
Grundy said in a statement that all students would be welcomed in her classroom and that issues of race “are uncomfortable for all of us, and yet the events we now witness with regularity in our nation tell us that we can no longer circumvent the problems of difference with strategies of silence. I regret that my personal passion about issues surrounding these events led me to speak about them indelicately. I deprived them of the nuance and complexity that such subjects always deserve.”
Stith said that because Grundy would not be working at the school until July 1, “to equate her tweets as representing a threat to white male students at Boston University is a stretch by any objective standard. At worst, one could conclude that her comments only represent a problem, theoretically, if carried to the extreme.
“On the other hand, Robert Brown is the president of this university and he has an enormous amount of power. The discrimination and hostility to which African Americans are subjected on this campus is real. It is ironic that this very real threat to African Americans at this university has not gotten nearly the national attention that a perceived theoretical threat to white interest has received.
“Herein lies the crux of the problem we are dealing with. Because of the extent to which African Americans are marginalized, our interests continually get treated as secondary in any discussion.”
Riley said BU remains committed to studying and teaching about Africa through its African Studies Center, which he described as, “one of the premier and oldest centers in the country,” with “extraordinary disciplinary depth and breadth,” with 115 affiliated professors and more than 100 courses each semester.