UMass students decry changes in Africana Studies

A shake-up in the Africana Studies Department at the University of Massachusetts Boston drew more than 100 students and staff to a forum on campus Tuesday night that quickly boiled over to a broader discussion about program changes and fee increases across the university.

UMass Boston faced a budget gap of more than $22 million at the start of this academic year, that resulted in higher tuition costs, a loss of about 100 adjunct professors, and cuts in academic programs.

Tight finances have resulted in cuts to programs that are not fair, several speakers said.


Cheryl Blalock said she has witnessed multiple cost hikes and program cuts in the 12 years she has been taking classes there.

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Students “ . . . deserve an administration that will keep their best interests in mind,” said Blalock, 61, who is studying for a master’s degree in human services.

Some of the most controversial changes occurred in Africana Studies, where the longtime chairman was replaced and where two female professors were denied tenure, speakers said.

University administrators said the changes to the Africana Studies Department resulted from a review of the department’s academics, not finances.

A review found that the program had fallen behind academically, necessitating changes, said David Terkla, dean of the university’s college of liberal arts.


“They said, ‘This is not cutting-edge African studies curriculum,’ ” Terkla said of a review conducted by experts.

UMass Boston Provost Winston E. Langley said the university is focused on addressing curriculum issues.

“We plan to rebuild it, and rebuild it in a way which will — hopefully — make it one of the strongest academic departments in the university,” said Langley.

But those changes also included the loss of talented colleagues, said Jemadari Kamara, an associate professor of Africana studies.

Former chairman Robert Johnson was replaced by a member of the review panel and later retired, he said. Two other professors were not granted tenure, he said.


Terkla said he intends to hire two or three new faculty members and a permanent head for the department.

Results of the university’s review of the department will be posted on the school’s website, administrators said.

Still, students who attended the hour-plus forum challenged the changes to the program.

Ala-Zaundria McIntosh said a black history course was cut this semester with little notice to students. An online course was offered in its place, she said.

Still, the department feels “under attack,” and “There is a lot of negligence” by administrators, she said.

Lydia Davenport, a member of the school’s Black Student Center, said officials have not adequately addressed students’ concerns.

“The more we get frustrated, the more we organize, the more we get pushback,” said Davenport. “And that’s not fair.”

John Hilliard can be reached at