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Trotter institute gets new director, budget reduction

Recent weeks brought good news and bad news to the four ethnic institutes at UMass Boston.

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the Banner’s senior editor. VIEW BIO
Trotter institute gets new director, budget reduction
Building projects at UMass Boston drove up debt on the campus, forcing budget cuts. BANNER FILE PHOTO

Recent weeks brought good news and bad news to the four ethnic institutes at UMass Boston.

On the positive side of the ledger, a new director was appointed to the William Monroe Trotter Institute for the Study of Black Culture, five months after former director Barbara Lewis took voluntary retirement from the post.

On the negative side, university officials have further cut budgets at the Trotter Institute, the Mauricio Gastón Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy, the Institute for Asian American Studies and the Institute for New England Native American Studies. UMass officials have put the institutes, the only four such public research entities in Massachusetts focusing on these communities, on what they call a “glide path to self-sufficiency.”

The four ethnic institutes are among 17 institutes the university is gradually de-funding.

But two years into the five-year defunding plan, questions remain as to whether any of the institutes will be able to raise sufficient funds or carry out their work without funding for staff positions.

“The expectations for us to fundraise are not realistic,” said Gastón Institute Director Lorna Rivera. Rivera, who is a professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Latino Studies, is not on the institute’s payroll, which covers two full-time and two part-time staff. “To expect our institutes to do fundraising with layoffs that affect our capacity, it’s setting us up for failure.”

While the Gastón Institute last year received a one-time $1 million private donation, the other institutes have fewer resources and fewer staff members.

State Sen. Nick Collins last year filed a budget amendment requiring the university to level-fund the institutes. But the university is paying $21 million a year in interest payments for debt it took on constructing new buildings and repairing existing ones. University officials last year said they faced unforeseen circumstances requiring cuts as they have sought to reduce a budget deficit that in 2017 had grown to $30 million.

Collins said he would like to see the $235 million the university is expected to gain from its sale of the former Bayside Expo Center used to pay down its debt.

“You could save over $10 million a year in debt service,” he said, adding that the funding would allow the university the flexibility to maintain funding for its institutes.

State Rep. Russell Holmes said the continued cuts to the institutes threatens the ongoing research.

“The cuts are detrimental to UMass Boston and to the state as a whole,” he said. “The institutes inform us on how our communities are functioning.”

Scholars and researchers with the institutes analyze data on blacks, Latinos, Asians and Native Americans in Boston and in Massachusetts, examining demographic trends affecting those communities. Research conducted by the institutes has focus areas including politics, small businesses and educational outcomes in the black, Latino and Asian communities throughout Massachusetts.

The four institutes last year collaborated with the UMass Donahue Institute and the Boston Foundation’s Boston Indicators Project to produce a comprehensive report on demographic trends among blacks, Latinos, Asians and Native Americans in the state. The report provided detailed analysis of areas including home ownership, education and income among subgroups of those communities pulled together in a single report.

The Gastón Institute is currently conducting research on Latino-serving nonprofits in Massachusetts, Latino participation in politics and Latino-owned businesses in Massachusetts.

“As the Latinx population in Massachusetts approaches almost 1 million, the Gaston Institute plays a vital role in education, research and policy that advances the needs of the Latinx community,” said Betty Francisco, co-founder of the advocacy group Amplify Latinx.

Francisco said the institute’s work on nonprofits is “precisely the type of research that no one else is doing.”

“It will provide actionable data for supporting the work of our human service organizations,” she said. “Funding these UMass research institutions and their work is an investment in the future of our Commonwealth and must remain a priority for our Legislature.”

Holmes said the university’s decision to defund the institutes is particularly troubling, given the historic mission of UMass Boston to provide education to Bostonians, the majority of whom now are people of color.

“You have a college that should be focusing on people of color,” he said. “Half of all black people in the UMass system attend UMass Boston. Funding the institutes is important because we want to keep structures in place that support people of color in Boston.”

New Trotter director

UMass Boston officials announced on Feb. 4 the appointment of Quito Swan to head the Trotter Institute. Swan, who replaces retired director Barbara Lewis, is a professor of Africana Studies at the university.

“He’s very qualified as a scholar,” said Tony Van Der Meer, a senior lecturer in Africana Studies who served on the UMass Boston search committee for a new director. “We’re very comfortable with the research he’s going to provide.”

While Van Der Meer expressed concern about the Trotter Institute’s continued funding, he expressed optimism that the university’s newly-appointed chancellor, Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, will honor the university’s historic commitment to its institutes.

“We have to find out what’s going to happen, whether he’ll fight for funding from the state,” Van Der Meer said.

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