Race Report: No Evidence of Discrimination

Gintautas Dumcius

No evidence of racial bias or discrimination among top university administration officials has been found, according to a UMass trustee task force report.

“There is no evidence that the personnel and policy decisions of Chancellor [Jo Ann] Gora and her administration were motivated by racial or ethnic considerations,” the report read.

But the report faulted Gora for a lack of understanding towards the campus culture and diversity in applying the decisions. “However, the implementation of those decisions may have lacked both a sensitivity and understanding of the campus culture with respect to diversity,” the five-page report said. “In other words, Chancellor Gora and her senior staff could have managed various situations differently, but they are not guilty of racism.”

Gora, who left in August to become president of Indiana’s Ball State University, did not immediately return an e-mail and a phone call requesting comment.

“Now we can move forward in focusing on building one community, which was the focus of my convocation address as well as the theme of this year’s convocation,” Chancellor ad interim J. Keith Motley said in an e-mail to the Mass Media.

“I wish it’d come out six months earlier,” said Robert Crossley, chair of the English Department and a supporter of the Gora administration. On “substantive issues,” Crossley said, the report was “very satisfying.”

Not all agreed. Africana Studies Professor Anthony Van Der Meer, who in April 2003 was arrested by campus police after getting into a yelling match with a National Guard recruiter, said, “Even Stevie Wonder could see the contradictions in the report.”

Van Der Meer charged that an injustice was being done to the current interim chancellor and the new incoming chancellor by not acknowledging the racial problems.

“I didn’t like the report,” he said, while noting a positive change in climate.

Other faculty were hesitant to comment on the record, unsure as of yet how to respond to the report’s findings. Some senior administration officials also declined to comment, saying that though they felt vindicated by the first half of the report, they preferred to wait until Motley’s response.

A Year Later, Report Clears Administration

The report, released nearly a year after the task force, was set up in response to heightened racial tensions on campus amid the resignation of a popular Latino college dean and the campus police arrest of Van Der Meer. Some faculty members have also pointed to the departures of administration officials and faculty of color over the last several years as evidence of a chilly racial climate.

“With regard to the allegation regarding the departure from the campus of faculty and administrators of color, the Task Force found no evidence of discrimination,” the report said. “What it did disclose was that an unfortunate confluence of unrelated events led to the coincidental departure from UMass Boston of identified persons of color – some through retirement and others to re-locations to other positions in other universities.”

The task force was lead by Karl White, a UMass trustee in charge of Gora’s review earlier in the year; and included former Boston campus provost and current UMass Dartmouth provost Louis Esposito, and former UMass Amherst chancellor Marcellette Williams, among others.

Through a UMass spokesperson, White, who is also vice chair of the UMass Board of Trustees, said he wanted the report to serve as his comment on the issue, and declined further comment.

UMass President Jack Wilson thanked White and the other members of the task force for contributing time and effort into the investigation.

“They have provided a significant and meaningful service to the Boston campus and to the UMass system,” he said. “We want to ensure that each of our campuses provides a welcoming atmosphere and supportive environment to all of the students, faculty and staff who pass through our doors. It is of paramount importance that this be the case, and it is valuable to examine past performance and offer suggestions for the future, as this Task Force has done.”

The task force spent a day on-campus talking with representatives from all levels of the university. “It was the general perception that the climate of the campus is less inclusive and chillier than it was under previous administrations, and that the current campus administration was less supportive than previous administrations had been with the Columbia Point community,” the report stated.

The campus talk, held last February, caused some controversy when several students and professors protested outside the meeting room, wanting to speak with the task force.