Is it not mismanaged?

Dr Ibram X. Kendi has a noble goal, combatting racism. To that end, he established a Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University that, by some metrics, was highly successful.

Since its announced launch in June 2020, just days after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the center has raised tens of millions of dollars from tech entrepreneurs, Boston-area corporations, and thousands of small donors.

At the time, Kendi, the author of the bestselling 2019 book “How to Be an Antiracist,” said the center would “solve these intractable racial problems of our time.”

Then the complaints started. There were accusations of mismanagement, that Kendi was unreachable, that all that grant money wasn’t being effectively used.

The organization “was just being mismanaged on a really fundamental level,” said Phillipe Copeland, a professor in BU’s School of Social Work who also worked for the center as assistant director of narrative.

Although most decision-making authority rested with Kendi, Copeland said he found it difficult to schedule meetings with him. Other staffers described paralysis in the organization because Kendi declined to delegate authority and was not often available.

Say it ain’t so! I’d want to see evidence that the center was being run poorly.

In recent months, Kendi had been on leave from the center, according to BU.

He returned last week and, in a series of Zoom meetings, told approximately 20 of the center’s staffers that they would be laid off, according to Spencer Piston, a BU professor and leader in the center’s policy office.

The layoffs “were initiated by Dr. Kendi” and represented a strategic pivot, not a response to any financial difficulty, Lapal Cavallario said. The center will now pursue a fellowship model “rather than its current research-based approach,” she said.

Uh, OK. Authoritarian mass firings and a complete redirection of how the center would be run is strong evidence of mismanagement, I would think.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    … assistant director of narrative.

    I’m out of touch with the non-profit sector, and even more so with the academic world, but just the name of that position strikes me as updated Orwell.

    Just what do directors of narrative (or their assistants) do?

  2. says

    @seversky, it’s pretty easy to burn through money due to mismanagement, if you give it enough time, & 3 yrs is plenty. Director being out of the loop can lead to enormous waste; poor training/professional development of staff can lead to really poor decisions on what research to fund, meaning you get poor results, which I could see leading Kendi to believe he had to shift to a fellowship model. The real problems have to do with management style, which as PZ points out, starts to look authoritarian (vs authoritative, which is different): he doesn’t delegate, & unilaterally plans & drives large changes. That can work, if the director is hands-on & competent at it – but even a slight deficit in competence will lead to failure with the only question being how long it takes.

    The distincton between authoritarian & authoritative is key: authoritative leaders project confidence, are seen as being clear & direct, elicit respect, & while they might (but might not!) require strict compliance, they will at a fundamental level be aware of & responsive to what’s going on in their domain.

    Authoritarian leaders by contrast are first & foremost executing their own plan – if it can be successfully presented as “vision”, they often get a pass. They’re often projecting their own ego.

    Put another way, you could say one is more about the work, the other is more about the person.

  3. hemidactylus says

    I don’t have enough knowledge on this organization one way or the other, but if worst case scenario this will be weaponized by the right as a way to attack anyone who considers themselves antiracist.

    I wouldn’t consider Kendi as a part of critical race theory, but more a popularizer of antiracism and black history. In this National Review article he is called a “critical race theory guru”:

    “I have been called the father of critical race theory, although I was born in 1982, and critical race theory was born in 1981. Over the past few months, I have seldom stopped to answer the critiques of critical race theory or of my own work, because the more I’ve studied these critiques, the more I’ve concluded that these critics aren’t arguing against me. They aren’t arguing against anti-racist thinkers. They aren’t arguing against critical race theorists. These critics are arguing against themselves.” – Kendi

    Seems he’s making a differentiation there.

  4. hillaryrettig1 says

    This is a shame. I liked his approach, which focused on changing behaviors and outcomes instead of attitudes. (As behavioral science teaches us, if you change behaviors / incentives, the change in attitude often follows.)

    He’s also written about having serious cancer health problems, which may have played a role.