Inquiry Into Ibram X. Kendi’s ‘Anti-Racist’ Center at Boston University Sparks Uproar Over Where, Exactly, Its Millions in Funding Went

‘Racial inequity is a problem of bad policy’ rather than ‘bad people,’ Kendi says.

AP/Steven Senne
The director of Boston University's Center for Antiracist Research, Ibram X. Kendi. AP/Steven Senne

One of America’s most prominent anti-racist voices and celebrity activists, Ibram X. Kendi, is under investigation by the university that has hosted his research center for three years, after employees working at his center criticized its spending priorities as putting his “brand” above the “real work” of combating racism in America.

Boston University announced this week that it would investigate the management of funds and staff at Mr. Kendi’s Center for Antiracist Research in response to “complaints focused on the center’s culture and its grant management practices,” its vice president of public relations, Rachel Lapal Cavallario, said in a statement to the Sun. 

These complaints came after the center fired between 15 and 20 members of its 45-person staff last week, numbers that Fox News Digital reported were confirmed to it by Boston University. 

Mr. Kendi, who was described as “a celebrity with immense money and power,” used the center to “elevate himself and to raise a lot of money, very little of which actually ended up supporting the wonderful community-engaged projects that so many staff were doing,” the faculty leader of the center’s policy office and an assistant professor at the university, Spencer Piston, tells the Sun. 

After its launch in 2020, the center received $1.5 million from the biotech company Vertex, $10 million from Twitter’s founder, Jack Dorsey, and $1.5 million from the Rockefeller Foundation to support its commitment to “racial equity and social justice,” according to the center’s website.

“The emphasis on the center’s reputation and brand came at the expense of doing the real anti-racist work,” Mr. Piston says, adding that of the many “pathologies” or issues at Mr. Kendi’s center, its community partners were “starved for resources.”

“This is in large part a story of failure,” Mr. Piston says. “But part of the failure is that work like this no longer has the material support that it deserved from the beginning.”

Mr. Piston underscores, though, “the many wonderful projects that staff — disproportionately women of color — and their community partners are engaged in.” He declined to name the local organizations working with the center because such an association “doesn’t look good for them right now.”

Since its founding three years ago, the center has produced policy reports focusing on racial and other data, civil rights, and mass incarceration, as well as amicus briefs submitted “in a small number of cases each year, prioritizing cases where racism may be a central issue but is not a focus of the parties’ briefs,” according to its website. 

“Many people, despite having been fired, are continuing that work,” Mr. Piston said, contending that “research is not just something produced by Ivory Tower academics for the purpose of elevating the brand of a prestigious corporate university.”

The assistant director of narrative at the center, Phillipe Copeland, writing on X, directed outrage at the university’s administration for diverting resources away from the “life and death matter” of anti-racism and toward “a branding exercise, PR campaign or path to self-promotion” for its namesake director.

According to an associate professor, Saida Grundy, who held Mr. Copeland’s position but left after less than a year, Mr. Kendi’s center was “exploitative,” lacking structure, and forcing her to work hours beyond what was reasonable for her pay, she told the Boston Globe.

Ms. Cavallario tells the Sun that the university will expand its examination of the center’s financial operations “to include the Center’s management culture and the faculty and staff’s experience with it.”

“We recognize the importance of Dr. Kendi’s work and the significant impact it has had on antiracist thinking and policy,” she said. “Boston University and Dr. Kendi believe strongly in the Center’s mission, and while he takes strong exception to the allegations made in recent complaints and media reports, we look forward to working with him as we conduct our assessment.”

Ms. Grundy, Mr. Copeland, and a Boston University spokeswoman for Mr. Kendi did not immediately respond to the Sun’s requests for comment.

The New York Sun

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