The director of Boston University’s African Presidential Center said Friday that plans to close the center reflect broader racial discrimination at the school, and added that it may move to another institution.
The Reverend Charles R. Stith, who founded the center in 2001, said in a news conference that BU does not do enough to attract or support black students and faculty.
“The record is abysmal,” he said. “Among BU’s self-identified peers, BU ranks 14 out of 15 in terms of African-American students. In 1976, 2.4 percent of BU’s faculty was African-American. It is less than that today.”
Jaimee McGruder, incoming president of BU’s People of Color Coalition, agreed that the university has a problem with race.
“I think that we’re not a priority to the administration,” said McGruder, a rising junior. “I think they honestly would rather we stay quiet and accept these kind of things.”
Colin Riley, a BU spokesman, said Friday that university president Robert A. Brown has led efforts that have doubled the university’s enrollment of underrepresented minority students in the past decade, to 22 percent of students in its latest freshman class.
“The number of African-American students has been increasing over the past several years, and Dr. Brown’s effort to ensure diversity on campus is an ongoing priority,” Riley said in an e-mail.
Stith’s assertions marked the second racial controversy of the week for BU, following a backlash over Twitter posts by Saida Grundy, who begins work as an assistant professor of sociology July 1. One read: “why is white america so reluctant to identify white college males as a problem population?”
Stith, a civil rights activist and former US ambassador to Tanzania, called for a “sea change” in racial attitudes at BU and said he hopes to negotiate with Brown to keep the center open. If that does not happen, he said, the center will survive, possibly at another university.
“Whether the center exists at Boston University or at some other venue, for me, has never been the major issue here,” he said.
Stith disputed the university’s stance that it is closing the center because he has not raised enough cash to support it, saying he was never given a fund-raising goal.
“Tell me the standard by which I’m being judged,” he said. “How much do other centers in the university raise? How much do they spend? . . . That information has never been forthcoming.”
Riley, the BU spokesman, said plans to close the center followed a systematic assessment of a dozen research centers at the school. The university closed its Neuromuscular Research Center in December after it lost external funding, he said, and other centers have merged or been absorbed.
Riley said BU was unaware “of any suggestion that the center might move to another university.”
BU has contributed more than $2.6 million to the center since 2001, Riley said, including about $240,000 in each of the past several years to pay 80 percent of Stith’s $168,500 salary and 20 percent of an administrator’s salary.
Stith also addressed BU’s handling of the controversy surrounding Grundy, who has apologized for the tone of her tweets.
In a statement Tuesday, Brown said the university was disappointed by Grundy’s statements. A union representing BU adjunct faculty Friday offered support for Grundy’s right to express her views.
Stith also defended Grundy.
“She has not taught one student at Boston University. She has not given one exam. She has not graded one paper,” he said. “She has had no power to affect BU in any way, so to equate her tweets as representing a threat to white male students at Boston University is a stretch by any objective standard.”Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.