In the summer of 2020, as protests roiled the streets and racial tensions reached a boiling point, Boston University made a groundbreaking announcement: the installment of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, a pioneering voice in the field of antiracist research, as the director of the Center for Antiracist Research. Kendi's scholarly achievements and antiracist ideals have substantially contributed to the racial discourse in America. His bestsellers, including “How to Be an Antiracist,” elucidate and expand upon the popular understanding of systemic racism. His instatement was seen by many as a step towards tangible change, with the Center being poised to make meaningful strides against racial inequity and injustice.

Recently, however, the Center laid off over half of its employees and slashed its budget by half. A significant portion of the astounding $55 million in grants and donations it received lie unaccounted for as well. Notably, the ambitious degree programs it had promised were never delivered upon. The institute had also aimed to conduct innovative research into food and health disparities, police brutality, and social justice issues related to COVID-19. Yet, just three years after these goals were set, the Center faces significant setbacks in achieving them. The reasons for this failure hint at an unsettling disjunction between visionary leadership and administrative capability.

The external challenges facing the Center are undeniable. Fading media spotlight on racial justice issues, combined with political pushback against progressive initiatives, has undoubtedly played a role in the Center's current predicament. Internally, allegations of conflicts of interest and misleading promises to donors further add to the concerns. These contentions hint at deep issues of workplace misconduct and mismanagement. Criticisms from former affiliates of the Center paint a picture of an institution bogged down by unrealistic expectations, rapid influxes of money, and a pandemic-induced operational strain.

In the midst of this rollback, the scrutiny has fallen on Kendi. Critics claim that, seemingly, an accomplished scholar does not make an adept administrator, especially in a rapidly expanding and highly scrutinized institution. Indeed, Kendi, prior to taking up the helm at the Center, had never managed an organization of its magnitude. The nuances of running a center of this scale—allocating funds, managing a significant workforce, and ensuring productivity—require a rare skill set, which Kendi did not appear to possess. While Kendi's vision for antiracism was profound, the execution of that vision seems to have faltered.

But the totality of blame cannot be levied on Kendi alone. Many institutions experiencing rapid growth struggle with scaling up efficiently, and the Center is no exception. Its $55 million starting grant made it one of the wealthiest degree-granting research centers in the nation, and proportionately large expectations loomed over its operation. However, what makes the Center's situation particularly poignant is the critical importance of its mission. Every misstep such as this detracts from the vital work of combating racial injustice.

Boston University's ongoing inquiry into the complaints from staff members and the Center's grant management practices is a step in the right direction. It is crucial that the institution gets to the root of the issues and enables the Center to regain its footing and credibility. While the intellectual visions of Dr. Kendi have been instrumental in spotlighting the critical issue of antiracism, the challenges at the Center for Antiracist Research underscore the importance of robust administrative capabilities. For the Center to thrive and achieve its lofty goals, a delicate balance of visionary thought and pragmatic operation is essential.