Boston University announced Wednesday that it is launching an inquiry into Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s Center for Antiracist Research (CAR) following accusations from former staff members that allege mismanagement of grant funds, a high turnover rate, and general disorganization.
The inquiry, which BU said will be “focused on the center’s culture and its grant management practices,” comes just a week after Kendi laid off more than half of the center’s staff members.
“We are expanding our inquiry to include the Center’s management culture and the faculty and staff’s experience with it,” BU spokesperson Colin Riley said. “Boston University and Dr. Kendi believe strongly in the Center’s mission, and … he takes strong exception to the allegations made in recent complaints and media reports.”
Kendi had been on leave from the center in recent months, according to BU, and returned this week for a series of Zoom meetings in which he laid off some 20 CAR staff members.
Kendi, an antiracist activist and author, became the founding director of BU’s Center for Antiracist Research in June 2020, shortly after the death of George Floyd and amid nationwide racial tension.
“My hope is that it becomes a premier research center for researchers and for practitioners to really solve these intractable racial problems of our time,” Kendi told BU Today in 2020. “Not only will the center seek to make that level of impact, but also work to transform how racial research is done.”
Three years after its founding, the center accrued at least $43 million in grants and donations, per BU independent student newspaper the Daily Free Press, including a $10 million donation from Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey.
Other organizations that gifted the CAR over a million dollars are TJ Maxx’s foundation, Stop & Shop, and Peloton.
BU’s Compliance Services Office received an anonymous complaint about the center in 2021 from associate professor of sociology and former CAR employee Saida Grundy, according the Daily Free Press.
That complaint detailed multiple high-level CAR staffers leaving suddenly and allegations of a toxic workplace culture of fear of retaliation and discrimination.
Grundy then reportedly went to then-BU Provost Jean Morrison, who had helped hire Kendi to lead the CAR, to discuss the allegations of the center not fulfilling its research obligations and other significant concerns.
“The pattern of amassing grants without any commitment to producing the research obligated to them continues to be standard operating procedure at CAR,” Grundy wrote in a 2021 email to Morrison. “This is not a matter of slow launch. To the best of my knowledge, there is no good faith commitment to fulfilling funded research projects at CAR.”
“I don’t know where the money is,” Grundy told the Boston Globe this week.
Another former CAR employee, professor at BU’s School of Social Work Phillipe Copeland, told the Globe that the center “was just being mismanaged on a really fundamental level.”
Spencer Piston, associate professor of political science and faculty lead in the policy office at the CAR, told the Free Press that Kendi’s layoffs came as a surprise and that he is unsure if his job at the center is secure.
“It’s pretty hard for me to imagine they blew through $30 million in two years,” Piston told the student newspaper. “There’s been a lack of transparency about how much money comes in and how it’s spent from the beginning, which comports with a larger culture of secrecy.”
In response to last week’s mass layoffs at the CAR, Kendi told Axios Thursday that “It was one of the most difficult decisions of my career to execute these layoffs.”
“But they were done to ensure impact and sustainability, to ensure that the center of antiracist research will be around 50 years from now,” Kendi said. “I’m really devastated, both because of having to lay people off, but then also because there’s certainly disgruntled people who are sort of using the moment to express problems. And allegations that are baseless, unfounded.”
In a 2019 biographical article, The Washington Post described Kendi as “bright but underachieving” when he was a senior in high school, having a GPA below 3.0 and an SAT score just above 1000.
Kendi went on to attend the historically black Florida A&M University, where earned dual bachelor’s degrees in African American Studies and magazine production, and then earning his masters and Ph.D. — both in African American Studies — at Temple University, graduating in 2010.
He has published several books about antiracism, including the #1 New York Times best seller “How to be an Antiracist” in 2019, and the 2020 children’s book “Antiracist baby.”
Kendi’s theories about equity and structural racism have become foundational to modern progressive policy making, especially when it comes to schools.
In pursuit of equity, American public schools spend $20 billion per year on programming and consultants, according to a report from USA Today.
The paper noted that most schools have no systems in place to determine whether that equity spending is actually improving schools.