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Gatepost Editorial: Hold the Board of Trustees accountable

Updated: Jun 9, 2023

photo of Mike Grilli
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During two Board of Trustees’ subcommittee meetings last week, members of the Board made comments that we, and the FSU community, deem highly offensive.

During the Sept. 13 Academic Affairs Subcommittee meeting, Chair Kevin Foley called into question Framingham State’s use of the term “anti-racism” in its branding.

Foley said he believed the term to have a “negative connotation.” In response, Kristen Porter-Utley, provost and vice president of academic affairs, explained the importance of the word and its implementation in theory and practice.

During the Sept. 14 Enrollment and Student Development Subcommittee meeting, Trustee Mike Grilli responded to President Nancy Niemi’s enrollment report and the loss of approximately 1,000 white women over the last few years with a reference to Jussie Smollett.

In 2019, Smollett falsely reported a hate crime that he had staged.

Niemi said Grilli’s comment had nothing to do with the discussion taking place.

On Sept. 16, Niemi sent out a campus-wide email informing the community of these two incidents.

We appreciate the speed with which Niemi informed the community, and thank her for her transparency.

Shortly after, an email was sent to the community on behalf of Foley.

This email was intended to be an apology, but failed to demonstrate any sensitivity or substance in regard to the comments that were made at the subcommittee meetings.

In this email, Foley stated, “If I expressed myself poorly and offended anyone then I truly regret that and sincerely apologize.”

However, it was never a question of “if.”

This wording reflects no accountability for his actions.

During the Board of Trustees meeting Sept. 21, Foley admitted his email fell short of being an apology and offered a genuine one to the community. In addition, he reaffirmed his and the Board’s commitment to Framingham State becoming an anti-racist institution.

Though we acknowledge this apology, it is not our place as an important institution at Framingham State to accept it. Nor is it the role of white community members to accept it. This apology is for our community members of color who have been hurt by his comments.

And yet, amidst it all, Trustee Grilli - where are you?

You didn’t show up to the Board meeting due to “personal reasons.”

You have not released a statement. Instead, Chair Foley apologized on your behalf.

You have not provided a response to The Gatepost when given the opportunity for an interview.

This is unacceptable.

For one of the most powerful members of this University to suddenly go into hiding after making offensive comments is shocking. It’s childish.

We demand accountability.

As for the Board of Trustees itself, why is the idea of being anti-racist and inclusive so foreign to you?

One of the University’s most significant efforts during the last few years is to become an anti-racist institution. It has been the subject of countless emails, discussions, workshops, and policy reviews.

Not to mention a whole vice president position has been devoted to this.

Becoming educated about diversity and working toward anti-racism is nothing new at Framingham State.

The Board should have been a part of these efforts a long time ago, and these latest incidents, and even comments made at this week’s meeting, prove this.

At the Board meeting, Alumni Trustee Diane Finch decided to share how having a Nigerian daughter-in-law “took a lot” for her to “deal with.”

No one at the meeting said a word.

Instead, faculty, staff, and students of color had to sit there and take in another wounding remark by a white Board member.

Our community deserves better.

We applaud Foley’s commitment to provide education and training about diversity and inclusion to the trustees by bringing in a consultant and reaching out to the Massachusetts commissioner of higher education.

To the consultant: whoever you are, you’ve got your work cut out for you.

However, this should only be the beginning. We expect full transparency from the Board throughout this process and ongoing communication about what they have learned and how they will use that knowledge to better themselves and our institution.

As Niemi said, anti-racism and equity work is never finished.

It’s time for the trustees to begin.


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