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The Mass Media

UMass Boston Chancellor inaugurated after four years

A look into Marcelo Suárez-Orozco’s ceremony and concurrent protest
Javier Rivas
Newly inaugurated Chancellor Marcelo Suarez-Orozco poses for a photo at his inauguration, which was held April 5. Photo by Javier Rivas / University Photographer.

On April 5, the UMass Boston community and guests flooded onto campus to take part in the Quad Ribbon Cutting Ceremony and inauguration of Chancellor Marcelo Suárez-Orozco as the ninth chancellor of UMass Boston. The group filled the Clark Athletic Center, listening to remarks and reflections from several people in the life of Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, religious organizations—including a video feature of Pope Francis—and the UMass System.

The event opened with a land acknowledgement, noting that UMass Boston was built upon and resides on Native and Indigenous land. Though the acknowledgement was still a work in progress, it was intended to serve as Suárez-Orozco’s commitment to work, his commitment to a relationship with Native and Indigenous community members in the UMass Boston area and his commitment to reciprocity.

The inauguration then featured religious blessings from faith leaders of Jewish, Islamic and Christian faiths—Rabbi Elaine Zecher, Dr. M. Faisal Khan and Most Reverend Cristiano Borro Barbosa respectively—who each took turns blessing Suárez-Orozco and giving him well wishes for his upcoming years as chancellor at UMass Boston.

Throughout the inauguration, several respected leaders from Boston, UMass Boston and Suárez-Orozco’s personal life shared their own stories about him, recounting how he came to America from Argentina in order to escape the Dirty War and found success through public education. The speakers also included that the decision to appoint Suárez-Orozco as chancellor was unanimous amongst trustees, which brought him to UMass Boston in 2020 from his former institution, the University of California, Los Angeles.

In addition, they shared some of the achievements that UMass Boston has achieved under Chancellor Suárez-Orozco’s tenure. These include the founding of the first university-assisted community school in partnership with Boston Community Leadership Academy-McCormack, as well as the elevation of the Manning School of Nursing, which obtained strong enrollment levels and higher retention rates, to the ninth largest in the country. UMass Boston also became a Research I institution, which was made possible due to record levels of research funding and philanthropic donations.

However, the ribbon cutting and inauguration ceremonies were not the only events that took place April 5. Outside the event and throughout the inauguration, protestors from across the UMass Boston community demonstrated in solidarity with each other, all in service of a common issue.

The coalition condemned Suárez-Orozco’s inability to acknowledge many aspects and demands of the university’s groups, and as such, demanded that Chancellor Suárez-Orozco—as well as the university at large—take accountability for their commitment to being a health-promoting and anti-racist campus. As the group’s press release states:

“The coalition’s demands are as follows: 1. Complete accountability of the university to their commitment to become anti-racist and health-promoting. 2. Complete transparency about all restrictions placed on free speech on campus. 3. Complete divestment of university funding from racist entities, and those engaging in war crimes. 4. Complete recognition of workers’ right to make their own fair, just and equitable contracts. The working conditions of our staff are the learning conditions of our students. 5. A formal meeting with the Chancellor by May 1st, 2024 to have our community demands heard and responded to.”

When asked about what led them to organize, representatives from the group stated that the inspiration came from seeing the disconnect and lack of leadership from the administration. The group began their planning less than two weeks before the inauguration.

Several members of the UMass Boston community from across pathways—faculty, staff and students alike—came to the protest for transparency, advocacy and accountability. For members of the Classified Staff Union, for instance, the goal was simple: accountability and livable wages for their members. As CSU President Alexa MacPherson stated in a report shared with Suárez-Orozco, Provost Joseph Berger and Vice Chancellor Kirlies on the day of the protest:

“UMass Boston must adapt for the times that we are currently in—you must provide greater work-life balance by refilling vacant positions, by creating new positions that strengthen departments, and removing classified job duties from overworked faculty and professional staff, who also deserve greater work-life balance.”

MacPherson’s statement reflects the sentiment shared by many CSU members, including those who were at the protest. The protest also advocated for other concerns student and staff concerns, such as the depletion of the Africana Studies department, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and tuition hikes. At the protest, the group chanted phrases such as “Stop raising tuition, respect the urban mission,” and “Chancellor Suárez you must know: you don’t listen, you will go.”

Dakota Brown, a first-year student involved with the protest, stated, “I hope that the students, faculty and staff of UMass Boston take away from this the fact that you can make an impact on your community. You don’t have to just take what you’re given. If you believe that there is injustice being done, you can do something about it, and you should.”

When asked about the inauguration and protest held April 5, representatives provided the following statement from Chancellor Suárez-Orozco:

“It was humbling to be inaugurated as the ninth chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Boston last week. Every day, I am moved by the pride in and love for what UMass Boston is and is becoming. For me, the inauguration—and the ribbon cutting and official unveiling of our new Quad—marked the advent of UMass Boston 2.0, bolstered by a new strategic plan, a new leadership team and revitalized academic and administrative operations, and robust partnerships with the City of Boston and the Commonwealth that will benefit our students and community.

As UMass Boston 2.0 continues to evolve in the months and years ahead, strengthening our diverse community and educating for the times will remain top priorities. At our very best, I believe UMass Boston is a community of people who see education as a pathway for shaping a more inclusive, sustainable and just world where all can engage in open, democratic expression.”

For many students the concept of UMass Boston 2.0 is unclear. When asked about their personal vision of a changed UMass Boston, Brown said, “A UMB 2.0, to me, is a real commitment to its mission of being ‘anti-racist and health-promoting,’ and an appreciation of how diverse UMass Boston is. It’s the full reconstruction of the Africana Studies department, with tenure to those who rightfully deserve it. It’s divestment from funding entities that use the money they get to infringe on the rights of others. It’s an honest and transparent relationship with our administration. Listening is the first step to change. Once there’s open communication between the administration and the people under them, then there can be movement in the right direction.”

As of April 15, Chancellor Suárez-Orozco has yet to reach out to the protestors.

About the Contributor
Katrina Sanville, Editor-In-Chief