A Boston University audit found no evidence of financial mismanagement at the Center for Antiracist Research, the Ibram X. Kendi-led initiative that was mired in controversy in September after substantial layoffs.
The probe, which the school announced the week after the layoffs, “found no issues with how [the center’s] finances were handled,” Boston University spokesperson Rachel Lapal Cavallario said in a statement on Tuesday.
The results of the audit represented a partial vindication for Kendi, a public intellectual who faced withering criticism of his management as well as unfounded accusations of financial malfeasance in the weeks after he laid off more than half of his center’s staff.
The center had raised nearly $55 million from donors since Kendi established it at BU in the summer of 2020, just days after the murder of George Floyd sparked a nationwide protest movement.
“I am not surprised” by the audit’s conclusions, he said in an interview Tuesday. “I knew that we had not engaged in any financial misappropriation or mismanagement of funds. We took great care of the funds people provided to us.”
The Globe previously reported that the center had spent $12.3 million in just over three years and that it still had more than $40 million on hand, including in an endowment.
Some of the suggestions of financial impropriety came from former employees or faculty with the center. But some of them did not have access to the center’s financial records. Much of the funding is tied up in a long-term endowment or otherwise restricted in how it can be spent, according to records previously reviewed by the Globe.
Other, more pointed allegations, including suggestions Kendi had misappropriated funds, came from conservative media figures who have long opposed Kendi’s advocacy and views on how to address racism.
“As a Black leader and a scholar of racist ideas, I know that one of the most widely circulated anti-Black racist ideas is that Black people take money and that Black people can’t manage money,” Kendi said. “It’s not surprising to me that those ideas would emerge and spread so quickly without evidence.”
BU said Tuesday it would continue to examine the center’s grant management practices, as well as its “workplace culture,” which also came under criticism after the layoffs. The school has hired Korn Ferry, an organizational consulting firm, “to support the workplace culture effort,” Lapal Cavallario, the BU spokesperson said.
In September, current and former staffers and faculty described a fractious workplace, characterized by high turnover and strong personalities pursuing myriad projects that were not always well coordinated.
Some described Kendi as not sufficiently engaged with the center’s work. Kendi, the author of the 2019 bestselling book “How to Be an Antiracist,” makes frequent TV appearances, hosts a podcast, has published at least 10 books since the center’s launch, and helped produce a Netflix film based on his 2016 book “Stamped from the Beginning,” which won the National Book Award for Nonfiction.
Kendi spent much of this summer on leave. He would later explain to staffers that his wife had been diagnosed with a stage-four cancer recurrence and, as a result, had to give birth early to a baby girl, the couple’s second child.
In its first three years, the center failed to deliver on some of its key projects, including a Racial Data Tracker meant to collate and analyze racial disparities in health, education, finances, and other areas.
Some critics also contended the center had produced relatively little original research in comparison to its substantial funding.
Kendi said the September layoffs were part of a pivot to place the center on steady financial footing and ensure it could survive for decades to come. The move was a reaction, he said, to declining fund-raising revenue as the enthusiasm of the 2020 protest movement faded.
The reaction to the layoffs had been overblown, he said. “It’s common for new organizations to have growing pains. It’s common for new organizations to pivot,” he said Tuesday. “While what has happened at [the center] has been reported as abnormal, for people leading these kinds of organizations, what we have experienced is normal.”
The center is now pivoting to a “fellowship model,” he said. The new model will require half as much full-time staff, BU said, and will bring in outside scholars who will join the center for nine months to conduct their own research.
“We’re in a period of transition,” Kendi said.
Mike Damiano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.