Carrying a Message Further • Chapter 4: Responsible Equity: Investing in Minority Serving Institutions
Why I chose to invest in the Benjamin Franklin Cummings Institute of Technology
NOTE to READERS: This chapter is partly inspired by George Yancey’s book, “Beyond Racial Division: A Unifying Alternative to Colorblindness and Antiracism”.
In that book Yancey argues for an approach to uplifting the lives and life prospects of people of color (more specifically, Black people) in a way that doesn’t pretend that there are no differences of opportunity and intergenerational wealth between white people and people of color (color-blindness) and that doesn’t fetishize and amplify those differences in a way that creates separation between people (ideological antiracism). One of the most interesting approaches Yancey adopted in his book is that he chose to devote an entire chapter to his Christian orientation in the presentation of his arguments as a stand-alone chapter.
In the introduction to his book, Yancey informs his readers that the book has perfect coherence without the chapter covering his Christian perspective on the issues covered and that the book could be read from beginning to end without reading this chapter.
In a similar vein, I’ve chosen to include this chapter on my work in the college I currently teach at to provide more context for social issues I cover in the various chapters of the “All We Are” essay series. But, it will be helpful to readers who have read the other chapters and might be looking forward to future chapters to bear in mind that this chapter is a stand-alone that can be skipped for now and returned to at another time.
Carrying a Message Further • Chapter 4: Responsible Equity: Investing in Minority Serving Institutions
Why I chose to invest in the Benjamin Franklin Cummings Institute of Technology
This chapter of the “All We Are” series is the fourth installment of Part 2 of the series, which is called “Carrying a Message Further”. These writings explore theories of ideological conditioning, the doctrine of “lived experience” (in which I explore my own lived experience of losing a close sibling to a tragic death), and reflections around Dr. Erec Smith’s argument for using empowerment as a basis for teaching, as laid out in his book, “Critique of Anti-racism in Rhetoric and Composition: the Semblance of Empowerment”.
In October, I was invited to contribute an essay to a book of essays that is coming out later this year. This book is provisionally titled “Diversity: A Fixer-Uppers Guide” and will feature several contributors who have been advocating in recent years for a “third way” approach to promoting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in workplaces, organizations, and even the country as a whole.
The basic thrust of this book of essays is towards the advancement of less ideological and more practical approaches to building trust and mutual support between and among the wide diversity of group identities in our world, particularly in our schools and workplaces.
My own contributing essay focuses on the ways in which I did not honor my students’ personhood and home cultures as a young teacher. In that piece of writing, I explore my journey as a teacher in a large urban region who learned over time that we have to honor in a clear and explicit way the subcultures and “discourses” (ways of speaking and communicating) of all of our students even while our aim is to introduce them to the mainstream discourses and norms that we believe will help them to become more successful in their future lives.
In a way, I could characterize that essay as being the journey from “pre-woke”, to “woke”, and finally to “post-woke”, where I have learned to integrate both the traditions that hold society together and the moral duty to attend to the needs of those who were born on the margins of that society. But, while I have been inspired to bring that piece to the finish line (and I’m just about done), I have been feeling that I needed to complete this chapter for the “All We Are” series first. The reason for this is simple. My heart wants to share this now.
Today, on the last day of Black History Month, and just a week after the passage of the White House Executive Order on Further Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through The Federal Government, I want to speak about what I call Responsible Equity. I want to share about how the responsible approach to equity is being implemented in real time at a college that serves nearly 75 percent students of color: the Benjamin Franklin Cummings Institute of Technology.
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Some Personal Background
In December of 2014, I was in a state of hopelessness. To put it plainly, I felt at the time that I had no reason to live. I had no active plans for ending my life. I just simply felt there was no point to living my life.
Let me explain.
16 months earlier in 2012, I had taken a sabbatical from teaching to pursue a project that meant much to me—the recording of an album of original music called “Eleventh Hour Shine”, which I had been composing for nearly a decade. After the release of the album, I documented the recording process in a long-form essay called “All Shine: How Stewardship Built a Vision”, wanting to demonstrate what you can get done if you build an atmosphere of collaboration and mutual respect.
Much of the inspiration for this experiment in collaborative vision-building was drawn from the graduate program I had just completed at the University of Massachusetts, Boston called “Learning Teaching, and Educational Transformation”. This program helped to codify for me the elements that go into building strong communities and projects, and I was excited to test all these things out in an artistic project. You can see a YouTube preview of the music that was eventually produced from this project here.
Being part of a positive collective vision has always appealed to me, and I’m glad to report that as the chief steward of the Eleventh Hour Shine project (alongside a partnership with a brilliant music producer, TJ Wenzl), we got the results we were working towards. Though the music may not appeal to everyone, I am confident that most who chance upon one or two of the compositions on the Pragnus Gray Bandcamp page or the Apple Music site will see that there is a coherent vision in this project and that all of the project’s participants demonstrated excellence and commitment.
And as I describe in detail in the essay linked above (and again here), the excellence of each contributor was influenced by the atmosphere of mutual respect, experimentation, and open expression that I sought to create as the chief person responsible for stewarding the project. We were also successful in raising the funds to complete the project with our public Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign.
But, the project had a major setback.
In the fall of 2013, at the height of the process of recording this album, the sudden death by police of a person my Aunt Susan once called my twin soul occurred that changed the course of my life and the lives of many others. I’ve mentioned this death in a few other posts (here and here), and at the risk of sounding coy or falsely private about my life, I am not going to go into the details of this death in this particular piece of writing.
And when I eventually do write about this death and its aftermath for the third section of the “All We Are” series, I will not be sharing any private stories about my family unless I talk to a family member who wants me to write about their lived experience in processing this tragedy. I plan on writing about my own process in a separate chapter in which I will argue that my lived experience of losing a sister to a cop doesn’t give me any special wisdom or enlightenment and does not give me the divine right to shut other people down or to claim the right to control conversations about police violence. And it doesn’t give me the right to pretend I am an expert on trauma or police brutality simply because of my “lived experience”.
Others have wisdom, not just me, and I won’t exploit my story or purported victim status to gain the upper hand under any circumstances. That would be unethical and disrespectful to the suffering of my loved ones and all others who have suffered.
The next two chapters after this current one will further explore the ethical dimensions of the victim stance—what Dr. Erec S. Smith has called the “Sacred Victim” identity in his book “A Critique of Anti-racism in Rhetoric and Composition.”
What I’m interested in exploring in this particular chapter is my great fortune to have entered the higher education field at a time in which my lived experience, professional training, and personal convictions all aligned perfectly with a higher ed institution that chose to invest in me at the time—the Benjamin Franklin Cummings Institute of Technology.
Franklin Cummings Tech: A New Beginning
The year 2014—the year I was hired— was a time in which the industry and the wider culture of the west began its swift trajectory towards high-octane levels of political, cultural, and social chaos and controversy, and, fast forward 8 years later, I am finding myself—depending on perspective—right there on the outer edge of the inside of a cultural revolution that has been taking hold in America over the past decade.
In a very real sense, I get to be a part of the American story where its Enlightenment-influenced, colonial and industrial past meets its multicultural, post-colonialist present and future. The history of the college is interesting. Here is an excerpt on the history of the college’s founding by Benjamin Franklin from the college’s website:
“Franklin believed that “good apprentices are likely to make good citizens,” and in his will in 1789, he stipulated a gift of £1000 to “the Inhabitants of the Town of Boston.” He noted that the kindness of two friends in helping him set up his business had been the basis of his fortune. “I wish to be useful even after my death…in forming and advancing other young people who may be serviceable to their country.” The interest was to augment the principal continually, and at the end of one 100 years, part of the fund was to be expended for “public works” and the balance was to be compounded for a second hundred years.
In December 1904, the steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, who heralded Benjamin Franklin as one of his heroes, matched the money in the Franklin Fund to build the college on two conditions: that the school be an industrial school similar to the Cooper Union, and that the City of Boston provide the land. When the first part of the fund matured just before the turn of the century, the Board of Managers of the Franklin Foundation agreed with Carnegie that a school providing training in the sciences would constitute the best and appropriate means of accomplishing Franklin’s beneficent purposes
On September 25, 1908, the Franklin Union was dedicated. Well over 200 years after his death, Franklin’s legacy continues to do great public good. Franklin’s vision has guided the college’s pragmatic approach of developing curricula that meets industry needs, and ensuring student success through comprehensive support.“
It should be easy to see why an educator would feel fortunate to have landed on the shores of this institution. Every so often, when I walk through the hallowed lobby of Franklin Cummings Tech, I am reminded of the rich legacy of the Enlightenment, which led to an explosion of knowledge and technology—a movement to which Benjamin Franklin contributed substantially—and the even richer legacy of forging a path forward that opens up opportunities for all people from all walks of life as we make our way further into the 21st century.
Without a doubt, sustainable technology and the diverse population of contributors towards that sustainability is the wave of the future. Institutions such as FC Tech are already playing an important role, and I’m glad to be a part of it.
The Passing of TC Rogers: A True and True Servant Leader
It’s a sad moment for me personally as I am publishing this essay.
At the time of this writing, just three weeks ago, the person who hired me in December of 2014 at the Benjamin Franklin Cummings Institution of Technology to teach two courses as an adjunct (part-time) instructor died unexpectedly. That person was TC Rogers (they/them), a trans rights activist and editor of the Rhode Island LGTBTQ+ Options Magazine. I will describe TC’s greatness in a separate piece of writing. I mention them here because they inspired greatness in everyone around them.
In their obituary, TC’s spirit was captured perfectly:
“TC had incredibly high self-expectations and self-discipline, but at the same time was remarkably supportive to the needs of others, living life without judgment but rather with compassion, love and good humor. TC had a life force that attracted many people and had strong connections to friends and colleagues.”
I will always be grateful to TC for investing in me at a time in which I needed that investment more than any time before or since. It was a time when I was still re-adjusting to a new life absent the twin soul I had known since birth, and I was fortunate to have been hired into an institution that served many students who were from similarly disadvantaged circumstances as the twin soul I had lost.
In the previous chapter of "Carry a Message Further”, I ended with the statement that I am deeply honored to be part of an institution that is “reaching for the very heights of social justice for those who have been far too long on the sidelines of society.” Coming from a subculture that I call a “network of despair”, and having taught in a large urban school district that served many students who also came from networks of despair, the gratitude I felt upon being hired to teach at this college was—and is—boundless.
And I thank TC Rogers for that.
Without a doubt, TC Rogers was what Robert Greenleaf called a Servant Leader. I have been stuyding leadership theories for years, and I regard Servant Leadership to stand above them all. As I wrote in a 2014 essay, “Servant Leadership in a World of Extraordinary Need”:
“Leadership is viewed as an instrument of serving the greater good, not as an end itself, and the search for and acquisition of power or influence is always subsumed into the overarching desire to be of service…. Servant Leaders are fundamentally about people and define the stakeholders in their sphere of influence quite broadly, including colleagues, subordinates, and boards of directors/trustees, clients and even the world at large. They place the needs of their people as primary and will not sacrifice the needs of the organization they lead in the service of furthering their own careers.”
This passage was written before I met TC, and after working with them for my first three years at the college, it is clear that I could very well have written this passage about them. Put in the simplest possible way, TC encouraged all of us in the Department of Academic Development to shine and never once felt small or diminished by those who took up that task. This was important to me, as I’ve always been a person who is drawn to problem-solving, which means I have always tended to get quite involved in the communities I have been a part of.
Before I got hired at the college as a full-time instructor, I wanted to make sure that this was a place that allowed me to be my most competent self. In fact, just the other day, my good friend and former Boston Public Schools colleague and literacy coach, Robert Baroz, reminded me that I had asked a question at my interview for the full-time Academic Development teaching position at the college:
“Will I be allowed to shine here?”
This question was vital. After working in the highly bureaucratized environment of a large urban public school district for decades in which many teachers have reported the need to practice hiding their light to maintain longevity and to keep a target off their backs, I wanted to teach at a place where I could be given the permission to shine as brightly as I could for my students—a place where ingenuity and academic freedom was the order of the day. A place where I could assert my competence on behalf of my students. TC Rogers not only gave me the permission to not hide my light under a bushel, but actively encouraged me to shine as brightly as I felt necessary to get the job done. And, after the first semester where I taught as an adjunct professor in their department, they recruited me to fill a full-time position of Assistant Professor of Academic Development.
After I landed the full-time position, not a single day went by when TC (and the subsequent chairpersons of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences) didn’t actively encourage me to do my very best, to speak openly about what I felt our students needed, to directly contribute to curriculum development, and to pursue the vision of the departments I taught for and the committees I became a part of.
Maturity: Strengthening Institutions vs. Dismantling Them
Of all the junctures at which my personal and professional life were dually impacted at the same time, the juncture at which I was hired to teach at Franklin Cummings Tech has been the most significant so far. And up to now, I am happy to report that the encouragement to shine my light on behalf of my students has been my experience over the past eight years. In the paragraphs that follow, I will be speaking to some of the outcomes of that encouragement.
Though I will speak about my own experience in contributing to the strengthening of one particular institution, in this chapter I will also speak more generally about the mechanics of reaching for the heights of genuine social justice in institutional life. Though it is currently fashionable in social justice activist culture to speak of dismantling and deconstructing institutions—specifically activist cultures influenced by Critical Social Justice (CSJ) theories—the much more wise and mature stance is to seek to strengthen institutions. Part of that strengthening, of course, will include a commitment to eliminating policies that cause harm, increasing the sociocultural diversity of staff, and restructuring departments, policies, and budgets so that the institution can survive with the times.
But, another part that is often missed is that strengthening an institution includes the building of a culture that fosters social trust, interpersonal respect, and a mission-driven atmosphere that inspires all members of the community from the top to the bottom. Careful attention to this strengthening means to strive for both a community of excellence that inspires people to do their very best and what the President and CEO of Franklin Cummings Tech, Dr. Aisha Francis calls a community of care that inspires the very best in us as people.
Humility is essential if we want to build relationships and trust with communities, civic leaders and individuals. But, as I explored above, it’s also essential to keep our lights on and to shine those lights when needed. As the following quote from Marianne Williamson’s popular poem, Our Deepest Fear put it:
“Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won't feel insecure around you.”
When it comes to institutions that serve the public good, we should not shy away from openly acknowledging contributions and accomplishments of individuals and organizations that potentially impact the lives of large numbers of people. This includes the contributions and accomplishments of the public personalities that most visibly represent institutions and movements and the frontline “grunt” workers who work behind the scenes to help to make those things come to fruition.
Without a doubt it is the workhorses who do the most labor in strengthening the institutions, and that needs to be recognized as an important ingredient in any endeavor that purports to raise the career and life prospects of those who were born into the margins of society.
Franklin Cummings Tech’s Vision Should Be Broadcast Far and Wide.
Franklin Cummings Tech has been serving the public good since 1908, and now is the time for the vision to be expanded.
On January 30th, 2023, the Benjamin Franklin Cummings Institute of Technology officially unveiled for the public its rebranding and upgraded vision. Part of that rebranding is the abbreviated version of the college's name—Franklin Cummings Tech or simply FC Tech. Dr. Francis has asked our community to share our story with our networks, and so I am doing so now.
In a letter to the college community (linked above), Dr. Francis laid out a concise bullet point list of the updated vision:
Our more concise mission, vision, and values statements strike at the heart of our commitment to provide an educational experience that changes lives and has the power to transform the industries for which we are supplying a bright and talented workforce.
Our mission: We deliver transformative technical and trade education that leads to economic advancement.
Our vision: To achieve economic and social impact through dynamic and entrepreneurial curricula that develop diverse tech talent for our region and to help graduates thrive by building wealth.
Our values: Supporting our diverse community. Fostering a supportive learning environment.
As for today, we will focus on celebrating our new brand. From here forward, we will exclusively use the common name Franklin Cummings Tech; along with our updated logo, mission, vision, and values statements to identify and define our institution and its impact.
Much labor has gone into the building of the college’s restructuring and rebranding, and it is with not a small amount of pride and much gratitude that I share some of that process. Within the contractual and ethical bounds of confidentiality (in terms of internal communications), most of the ideas and issues I will be exploring below are based on publicly available information or are described in general terms about the promises and perils faced by all colleges that serve traditionally underrepresented communities.
Given the Current Crisis Faced by Colleges, I Want to Talk About Our Ponies
It has been said that “a great warrior is always mysterious and never brags of his many ponies.” But I think that given all the hard work the staff, faculty, and leadership put in on behalf of the college’s mission and goals, the bragging of our ponies is very much warranted here.
I want to talk about our ponies. But, I want to be clear about what my objectives are in the writing of this chapter, especially in the larger context of the series of writings I have titled “All We Are”. So let me place those objectives on the table in a clearly defined way. For clarity, below is a numbered list of what I will be exploring both in this chapter and subsequent chapters.
Minority Serving Institutions must be expanded, funded, and supported. Long-term systemic inequalities such as the disadvantage of being held back from accumulating intergenerational wealth due to historic inequities (e.g. slavery, Jim Crow, and redlining) need to be balanced for. If pursued in an ethical way, we can call this responsible equity. Notwithstanding my clearly and openly articulated critiques of the excesses of public policy proposals influenced by Critical Social Justice (CSJ) theories, I unequivocally support this effort.
All institutions that serve the public good, including Minority Serving Institutions (MSI) must treat all members of the community with respect regardless of their sociocultural identities. This includes treating minoritized members of the community as well as those members who have been deemed as members of the majority (or as people who are said to possess a condition that some call “privilege”) as the human beings they all are. All must be treated with dignity, and no stigmatizing against any demographic group should be allowed, including demographic groups who belong to the majority.
Freedom of Speech, Thought, and Expression is a key ingredient in mission delivery, and must be unambiguously and consistently embraced by the institution’s policies, leadership messaging, and behavior. This will help to maintain a high level of intelligence and accuracy in decision-making. Interpretive absolutism and restrictive thought processes can become the norm in a culture of self-censorship where punitive measures are undertaken to silence people with perspectives and solutions that deviate from an orthodox script. This culture of silence results in weakened outcomes for mission delivery.
In the current era, there is much disagreement around the proper mission of educational institutions, especially those that serve diverse populations, and when we consider the often abstract and highly theoretical mental realms in which these disagreements take place, a proper accounting of the concrete actions that contribute to organizational success is in order. And at a time when a focus on differences between group identities often muddies the waters around educational issues, including how to maintain the viability of an educational institution, it feels especially vital to remind ourselves of just what it concretely takes to accomplish the mission of an educational institution.
These are hard times for community and junior colleges, and non-elite universities.
In a recent article by NBC News titled, “A crisis is looming for U.S. colleges — and not just because of the pandemic”, it was reported that more than 500 colleges have recently faced financial stress to such an extent that potential closure has become an ever-present threat. And Forbes Magazine bluntly asked us in 2022: Will Half Of All Colleges Really Close In The Next Decade?. Chronicle Magazine reported in the same year that professors are reporting record numbers of students checked out, stressed out, and unsure of their future. In a similar vein, The Chronicle of Higher Education has recently informed us of what college professors have experienced as a ‘Stunning’ Level of Student Disconnection.
Student levels of disconnection are due to a number of variables, and I will be exploring some of those variables in subsequent chapters. But, one variable that should concern all college leaders is that when a college closes, student loans are at stake. The credibility of the degrees they have earned is also at stake. So, there is much harm that can come to real life people from a college’s closing, which is why we have to work hard to avoid that outcome. And let’s be reminded that closure is always a real possibility for colleges in the current era no matter how successful colleges are in their marketing campaigns.
NBC News reported in 2022 that dozens of colleges closed abruptly in recent years and that students have often been “left scrambling to find new ways to finish their degrees”. And when we consider Higher Ed Dive’s tracking of trends in college consolidation since 2016, which includes “closings, mergers, acquisitions and other consolidation among public and private nonprofit institutions from 2016 to the present”, there is no question that institutions of higher education are in troubled waters.
And these troubles are hitting close to home in the Greater Boston region with an impact on other regions of the United States. For example, Mills College, an Oakland, California traditionally all-woman college that began as a seminary in the mid-19th century has recently decided to enroll men in its undergraduate programs due to severely dropped enrollment numbers and has merged with the Boston-based Northeastern University to avoid closure. It is now called Mills College at Northeastern. It is interesting to note that news reports have called this merger a “survival plan”, which is an apt phrase describing the financial crisis faced by many colleges. And when we consider the 2018 closing of Mount Ida College, which was located in Newton, Massachusetts (acquired by the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and now renamed Mount Ida at UMASS Amherst), which is only 7.84 miles from Boston proper, there is no question that a small college nearby with a small endowment must undertake creative and bold measures to strengthen its circumstances.
So, for Franklin Cummings Tech, like many other colleges during these changing times, which have such high stakes, the challenge we face is how to build strength and viability in both the mission and operational dimensions. And I believe we have a great, great chance of succeeding.
Because from where I’m sitting as an insider of this process, FC Tech doesn’t just have a mere “survival plan”.
With a close examination of the college’s Future Forward Plan, it should be clear to even the most casual reader that we have a “thrival plan”.
Franklin Cummings Tech Wins a $12.5 Million Endowment and Reaccreditation
Over the past three years—and especially over the past year—I participated along with many of my colleagues in the process of helping the Benjamin Franklin Cummings Institute of Technology avoid potential mergers with other institutions and the closing of its doors. As many colleges have been struggling both before and especially after the pandemic, it was all hands on deck for those of us who wished to see this gem of an institution continue on through the 21st century. Fortunately, we not only managed to keep the doors open, but after several years of intense self-reflection, rigorous inquiry, and serious restructuring, we also gained re-accreditation from the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE).
The contributions we all made towards these goals required a great deal of brain power, creative energies, and community organizing skills, as well as the capacity for synthesizing ideas and communicating them in a way that others can understand and get behind. It was a sincere team effort led by the College President and CEO, Dr. Aisha Francis who provided elegant framing around her vision for the college and the necessary leadership of the many teams involved in the re-accreditation and re-branding process.
If it were not for Dr. Francis’ guidance, her expert fundraising team, her relationship with civic leaders and elected leaders (such as Congresswoman Ayanna Presley), and a generous $12.5 million gift from the Cummings Foundation, I don’t think “the little college that should’ would have made it.
The Cummings gift, in particular, was the greatest boon and led to the college adopting the Cummings name in its rebranding. More importantly, as described by Adrian Walker in a February 23, 2022 Boston Globe article, the impact of this generous gift is that it provided a much-needed “boost” for “tech students of color”.
In the following passage, he succinctly describes where we were at the time:
Less than two years ago, the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology was on the brink of extinction.
Today, it stands on the verge of transformation.
Since its near-death experience, the two-year technical school — easily overlooked in this bastion of higher learning but a beacon to the Black and brown students who flock to it — has fended off a takeover, sold its South End campus, and plotted a move to Roxbury, where it belongs.
Others Contributed, Too
Many players behind the scenes made the transformation of the college, its re-accreditation, and sustainability possible, including the board of trustees, journalists, faculty members, members of the administration, committee and department chairs, program directors, students, real estate professionals, and many others.
More importantly, there were many of us who are the less visible members of the faculty and staff who helped to build the infrastructure for the college’s recent success and rebranding while preserving the institutional memory that was very much needed to build bridges between the past, present, and future and to uplift the morale of the faculty and staff. As most organizational theorists and scholars will remind us, we can’t get there if we don’t start from here, and honoring the contributions of the invisible workhorse people who have been closest to the action of delivering the actual services is important for an organization that is serious about its mission.
Mission Supports and Operational Supports: Acknowledging the Invisible Workhorses Who Make Things Happen
In a framework called “Three Supports for Community and Organizational Development”, which I developed in graduate school and later adapted for my consulting website, Support Your Mission, I made a distinction between mission supports and operational supports. In a way, it can be said that Dr. Francis and her leadership team, including Dean of Academic Affairs, Dr. Marvin Loiseau, Dean of Students Jackie Cornog, and other members of the administration and the Board of Trustees provided mission supports, while those of us who have been at the center of carrying out the day-to-day work have provided the operational supports needed to carry out the mission. It’s also true that we all played a role in both mission and operational supports.
Of course, both of these supports matter. Mission supports carry no weight if they cannot be carried out on the operational level. And organizational operations become depressing, anemic, and unsustainable if there are no clear mission supports (which includes inspirational vision and the continued, unbroken circulation of professional respect from those at the top of the organization towards all employees).
And for a school that serves 74% students of color, and others from less advantaged communities, understanding the relationship between mission and operational supports is vital. As I have noted earlier in this essay, the college has been designated by the Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Civil Rights under the U.S. Department of the Interior as a Minority Serving Institution (MSI). These institutions are described on the website as being “unique both in their missions and in their day-to-day operations”. In the writing that follows, I hope to accurately convey the ways in which the unique mission and day-to-day operations of Franklin Cummings Tech has combined to build a vision that has the potential to show the way for increasing the diversity of tomorrow’s workforce, developing harmonious relations between demographic groups in an increasingly diverse metropolitan area (and world!), and the unique opportunity to carry our message further beyond the borders of the college.
I will begin with the obvious and most visible public voice who has been championing the college’s vision since the summer of 2020: Dr. Aisha Francis, the President and CEO of Franklin Cummings Tech.
Dr. Aisha Francis: A Visionary for Responsible Equity
Dr. Francis took the reins of leadership at the college in 2020 with already-impressive credentials, recognition, and achievement on the civic and professional level. But, from what I have witnessed in the public sphere, on the human level, Dr. Francis has also demonstrated in the past few years one of the most important aspects of transformational leadership: a heart.
This is clearly visible in the following video of the May 14, 2022 commencement ceremony. Around 13 minutes into the video, the viewer can clearly see the compassion and sincere attentiveness Dr. Francis demonstrated during the emotional valedictorian speech delivered by graduating student Monique Noberto, a single mother who is the first of her family in generations to graduate from college. I was at that ceremony, and I can honestly say that many of us, including myself, were moved to tears. In such a moment like this, it becomes clear to us who serve our students that we’re doing real work for real people, and it matters a great deal that we are led by leaders who sincerely care about the mission and the people impacted by that mission.
For those interested in the content of Monique’s speech, here is the transcript.
It is noteworthy that Dr. Francis was recognized as the 2019 EXTRAordinary Woman by the City of Boston. Additionally, The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce Women’s Network awarded Dr. Francis the 2023 Pinnacle Awards, “honoring nine remarkable female professionals in Greater Boston for outstanding achievement in business, government, and management” for Achievements in Arts and Education. And when considering her accomplishments as the President and CEO over the past two years—check out her 2022 end-of-year message on her Linked-in profile to learn about the additional grants, funding, and emerging vision for clean energy, clean air, and clean tech—it is also no surprise that Dr. Francis was recently recognized as a Women Mean Business honoree by the Boston Business Journal for her outstanding work.
One of the aspects of being the public face of an institution is the building of relationships with civic leaders. So, we were fortunate to have the Mayor of Boston, Michelle Wu—the first woman and first person of color to be elected to this position in Boston’s history— invited to deliver a keynote address to the May 2022 graduating class of students. Much of Mayor Wu’s speech was in alignment with the vision of the college. In fact, I was so inspired by the speech that I worked for hours transcribing it and posted the video and transcript on a new YouTube site I created called Visionary Leadership.
For an immediate reading of the transcript, here is a Google Doc I created shortly after the ceremony.
Part of what makes Dr. Francis’ public leadership so compelling is that she is grounded in the historical legacies of both her immediate family and the shared history of education leaders and African Americans. Two of her writings that come to mind are My inspiration: Georgia Overton Cash Frierson and Black History is More than a Month, both of which are published on Dr. Francis’ Linked-in page.
Regarding Georgia Overton Cash Frierson, her great-great aunt, Dr. Fancis has this to say:
“In antebellum Nashville, where I was raised, much of my family was conscripted to unpaid work on a plantation cruelly called Travelers Rest. My great-great Aunt Georgia Overton Cash Frierson, is the first known professional educator in my family and she is also part of the first generation born after slavery. She lived from November 1872 until the 1940s. And is the 6th child of Hiram and Evelyn Overton, whom I’ve written about previously. After attending college, Aunt Georgia began working as a teacher in Davidson County Schools. By 1914, she had become principal of the Rock Hill School, and then, between 1936 to 1943, was appointed as the superintendent of industrial education for what was then called the Negro School Division of the Davidson County Department of Education.”
This is quite an inspiring merging of legacies.
To get a sense of how Dr. Francis operates as a visionary leader and what her vision entails, I recommend viewing the YouTube video of her installation ceremony, in which she was officially sworn in as the 13th President of the college—the first African American and first woman to take up this mantle. You can also read a full transcript of Dr. Francis’ talk, which I’ve transcribed and inserted into a Google Doc.
In one of the most moving speeches of the installation ceremony, Director of Learning Sally Heckel spoke passionately about Dr. Francis' vision of "widening the institute's community to include workplace development experts, community-based organizations, policy-makers, and others who could help us advance our mission." In the final part of her speech, I believe Sally is speaking for me and many of my colleagues:
"She said the community and the City of Boston needed to know more about what we do to provide young people with career-ready skills and put them on the path to opportunity and prosperity.
I am honored to be a part of this community under your leadership, to work for you and with you, as you lead the college into a modern new era, while advancing our timeless mission of preparing our graduates for work, lifelong learning, and citizenship.
We in the BFCIT community have never been more optimistic about the future of this institution and the future of our graduates.
Thank you, President Francis, and congratulations."
A Transformational Vision and the Real Work That Lies Ahead
At the time of this writing, Dr. Francis has just been named an honoree for the Boston Chamber of Commerce Pinnacle awards, which CBS Boston described as honoring “dynamic women leading their industries to greater heights”.
In the interview with CBS, Dr. Francis states that “this is a wonderful moment for us as an institution because I really do believe that, in many ways… even if an honor comes to me, a lot of it is for the work that I am doing, and that work is here.” [italics mine]
Throughout the late months of 2020 and on through the present, Dr. Francis and her immediate team of advisors have had their work cut out for them during the rebranding, re-visioning, and re-accreditation process at a time when a pandemic was running its course through all sectors of society. But it wasn’t just the pandemic. The transformational process of the college began during the summer of 2020 during which public protests and institutions across the western world delved into deep reflection around racial justice after the murder of George Floyd— during an era in which Dr. Francis acknowledged in an October 2020 virtual meeting with the Boston City Council leader Kim Janey (who was acting Mayor of Boston after Marty Walsh was tapped for a diplomatic role in President Biden’s administration) the need to bring “racial reckoning” into Franklin Cummings Tech.
And in the rebranding and public imaging, I believe Dr. Francis and her team succeeded. In my estimation as an employee who works under her leadership, she appears to have exhibited the behaviors of what some scholars have called transformational leadership, and I believe that due to this style of leadership and integrity, great things lie ahead for the college.
Part of transformational leadership includes the principle of what leadership scholar James MgGregor has called “individualized consideration”—the practice of building leadership in others and actively empowering them to carry out the mission. I’ve seen this play out under Dr. Francis’ leadership, which is a testament to the long-term viability of the Benjamin Franklin Cummings Institute of Technology.
Those of us on the ground who contributed to those processes and continue to be responsible for delivering the immediate services that the mission, vision, and public imaging point to also have our work cut out for us.
In the section below, I will briefly lay out the ways in which I and others have helped to operationalize the mission and vision laid out by Dr. Aisha Francis, her leadership team, and the Board of Trustees. At the end I will express a gentle moment of encouragement for the Franklin Cummings Tech faculty and staff, Dr. Francis, Dr. Loiseau, and the Board of Trustees towards the adoption of a formal policy that endorses freedom of speech, thought, and expression.
My Own Contributions to the Benjamin Franklin Cummings Institute of Technology
I chose to write publicly about my own contributions to the college for two reasons.
First, at present, I am the only faculty member that I am aware of who publicly writes from a perspective seeking a more comprehensive and inclusive approach to education and social justice issues than what has been offered by proponents of the Critical Social Justice (CSJ) theories that are commonly adhered to in various educational institutions across the country. My hope is that sharing the real life context in which these issues come to the fore will add more depth to the ideas I have been exploring and their practical implications in the institutional settings I play a role in. That is, my perspectives are not coming from the desire—consciously or unconsciously—to protect what some call power and privilege. They come from my commitment to discovering what works and doing what I can to promote those discoveries.
Second, as an enthusiastic member of the Healthy Workplace Movement, led by legal scholar and widely recognized organizational theorist David Yamada, I believe we need to recognize the health, well-being, rights, responsibilities, and contributions of workers—those on the ground who do the actual work that is inspired by those who publicly represent the institution. The contributions of faculty members need to be visible because they are the chief agents who carry out the mission of the college.
The Value of Workers, Staff, and Faculty Owning Their Contributions
Being invisible can sometimes be a good protection, which is why many employees choose not to speak openly about their contributions or choose to “lay low” to avoid detection by bad actors who have the power to separate them from their livelihoods. We can never know what the consequences might be when we choose to openly assert our competence in any field, especially the “soft” fields like education, where flat organizations with few opportunities for professional advancement can lead to interpersonal conflicts, unhealthy competition, and a wide variety of workplace bullying tactics (see employment scholar David Yamada’s New Workplace website for more information about this).
As this essay is becoming longer than I had anticipated, I decided it would be best to end this chapter with a simple bullet list of public Google Docs of my 2022 self-evaluation, which lists my contributions during the crucial 2021-2022 academic year, in which the college was under the process of being evaluated for re-accreditation by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), my participation as the drafter and main organizer of the founding of the FC Tech College Senate, and other publicly available information that helped the college to not only maintain viability but to successfully seek re-accreditation. I am happy to report that due to the efforts of many of my colleagues, myself, and the leadership of the college, Franklin Cummings Tech has now become re-accredited.
Over the next two chapters of Carrying a Message Further, I will attempt to cover a fairly large span of ideas, issues and understandings around ideology-based victimology across the political spectrum, so I don’t need to go too much into it here. In some of this upcoming writing, I will share a small amount of detail about my role as the chairperson of the Faculty Development Committee (FDC) at the college and my collaborations with visiting professionals in training faculty in the creation of trauma-informed environments and in what I consider the higher and more invitational forms of practices that many are calling Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI).
Responsible Equity is About Investment
Below is a simple bullet list summarizing the work I have been involved in towards the operationalization of the mission of the Benjamin Franklin Cummings Institute of Technology. This list represents what I call responsible equity. The investment is real. And those who may have benefited from that investment were benefited in ways that are pragmatic. This practical approach to uplifting the lives of marginalized groups is something that I feel needs to be placed on the table in all conversations around equity.
Curriculum Vitae (as of February, 2023)
April, 2022 Self-Evaluation (which outlines my contribution to helping the college gain re-accreditation and my collaboration with Director of Learning, Sally Heckel in bringing Universal Design for Learning (UDL) into the college as its formal teaching and learning philosophy and my work with the Director of Curriculum and Chair of the Faculty Academic Advisory Committee, Mozhgan Hosseinpour, who invited me to collaborate on re-designing the Annual Program Review (APR) and 5-year Program Review (5PR) for all departments and programs at the college. Without a doubt, Mozhgan is one of the most brilliant and detail-oriented partners I have ever collaborated with on a project. To date, I feel immensely grateful that she invited me to be a part of this process (which was a major component in the NECHE re-accreditation process).
Google Doc of Franklin Cummings College Senate charter and bylaws (the original collaborative document that staff and faculty members worked on. I drafted the original document based on a Boston Public Schools Faculty Senate charter that I drafted with the guidance of Robert Baroz, who served as a 2011 Classroom Teacher Ambassador Fellow in President Obama’s Race to the Top Initiative. Though I wrote the first draft for this Boston Public Schools faculty senate, Robert Baroz was a major influence and editor and was my chief partner in creating this faculty senate. He later served as the first chair.
For the Benjamin Franklin Cummings Institute of Technology, the Creative Commons licensed draft of the BPS faculty senate charter was repurposed and redrafted as a college senate at the advice and inspiration of the Franklin Cummings Tech’s Director of Information Literacy, Sharon Bonk. On October 26, 2020, the Franklin Cummings Tech College Senate Charter and Bylaws was officially ratified by a unanimous faculty and staff vote and was officially legitimized by President and CEO, Dr. Aisha Francis.
It needs to be understood that one of the seven major areas for re-accreditation by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), which re-accredited the college in 2022, is in the area of onsite governance. So, this contribution to the college’s viability is significant.
The official college web page for the FC Tech College Senate can be found here.
We Have Our Work Cut Out for Us
So, that’s it. This chapter is about where the rubber meets the road. None of this is abstract. We’re doing real work here. And we’re having real conversations about things that matter. And those conversations have the potential to bring us closer to the vision of what I call responsible equity. Responsible equity is the commitment to invest in communities that have not yet been adequately invested in.
And, as we will see, we have our work cut out for us if we want the practice of responsible equity to catch hold with the general public. This will require us to examine the importance of centering the experiences of victims of oppression in our contemplation as people and in our policy-making as citizens as well as the ways in which our definition of victimization and oppression might help or hinder the conversations that are very much needed if we hope to build a better world. It is my sincere hope that we are able to center responsible equity over the more cynical approaches that foster conflict and mistrust between identity groups.
Even if we as individuals have adopted a secular worldview and way of life, it’s important to realize that in the end most people hold human lives as sacred. This understanding alongside the realization that none of us can escape our mortality and eventual death is one of the main universal threads that ties us all together.
In the next two chapters we will explore two seemingly opposing paradigms as outlined in Erec Smith’s book “A Critique of Anti-racism in Rhetoric and Composition”. The Rightful King and the Sacred Victim.
NEXT CHAPTER: “The Rightful King”.
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