A Message from the Chancellor
Today we begin together a new journey for Boston’s great public research university. It is the honor of a lifetime to serve as your chancellor. I return to the commonwealth with great expectations, hope, and a sense of gratitude. These are trying times and now, more than ever, we must come together in our educational endeavors to overcome the extraordinary challenges ahead.
I am grateful to Interim Chancellor Katherine Newman for her able leadership, keen mind, and indefatigable work ethic over the last two years—and above all her extraordinary efforts to mitigate COVID-19’s impacts on our students, faculty, and staff.
By way of introduction, I am the child of public-school teachers. I grew up in a small town outside of Buenos Aires. Education is a public good, essential for the flourishing of all human beings and the formation of engaged and independent citizens. It must prepare our workforce to thrive in the labor market. In my case these were not simply worthy abstract principles. For me, education was a transformational life force. At its best education nourishes the brain, heart, and hand, creating a dignified and purposeful life.
As a young immigrant I started my studies in the California Community College System, transferring to the University of California, Berkeley where I received an AB (psychology), MA, and PhD (anthropology). I return to Boston after nearly a decade as dean of UCLA’s oldest school—the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. Prior to UCLA, I served as University Professor at NYU and the Victor Thomas Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I have been Visiting Professor of Anthropology at the Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium), Visiting Professor of Social Sciences at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (Paris) ,and Visiting Professor of Cultural Psychology at the University of Barcelona (Spain). I have held fellowships at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (Stanford), the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton), and held the Norbert Elias Lectureship at the Amsterdam School for Social Sciences (The Netherlands). My field of scholarship is the study of migration, globalization, and education. I feel that my entire life, both professional and personal, has been spent in preparation for this challenge.
To be sure, we face grave threats—from a ravaging pandemic, particularly devastating to communities of color, to unchecked climate change extracting untold suffering in the world’s poorest regions, to the structural racialization of inequality and the intergenerational persistence of anti-blackness, to xenophobia and exclusionary anti-immigrant policies. My life work stands for a higher education agenda of excellence animated by an ethic of care and solidarity, an ethic of preference to the least empowered amongst us, an ethic of dignity and human rights, and an ethic of engagement and service to others. Systemic racism, hatred, and police brutality stand in complete opposition to a humane civilization and to the elemental requirements for the practice of democratic citizenship.
As my first act as chancellor, I am reaching out to multiple communities as together we redouble our efforts to offer the best academic experience to all our students as we focus sharply on mitigating the malignant effects of the COVID pandemic, its calamitous wake on the economy, and the budgetary undertow we all face moving forward. Second, I have established and endowed the George Floyd Honorary Scholarship Fund to provide financial support to our talented students who otherwise may find it difficult or impossible to pay for a college education. My wife, Carola, and I have seeded this with funds in the amount of $50,000. I am happy to report the fund has already exceeded $100,000 in commitments from generous and visionary members and supporters of the UMass Boston family. Third, in consultation with the provost, the Faculty Council, the FSU, and other campus constituents, I intend to appoint a faculty member as Special Advisor to the Chancellor for Black Life at UMass Boston. The special advisor will advise me on matters of importance to our Black faculty, students, and staff. The Special Advisor will work with me and my leadership team as we commit to create new structures and to develop new codified and customary practices purposefully designed to put UMass Boston at the forefront of excellence, engagement, and relevance on racial justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. A call for nominations and additional details will be forthcoming following the completion of constituent discussion.
In my view, education is the indispensable tool for disrupting and overcoming the malaise of growing inequality—an ominous threat to the practice of democratic citizenship. In these times of great uncertainty, suffering, and economic upheaval, under my leadership the University of Massachusetts Boston will endeavor to be the university of and for the city and the university of and for the times. The times call for an education to nurture that which is true (logic), that which is good (justice/ethics), and that which is beautiful (aesthetics). Creating a more inclusive, just, and sustainable world is education’s urgent challenge.
That ideal shall guide my work as chancellor of Boston’s great public research university.