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Editorial: Randolph Bromery’s long legacy in education

The late Randolph Wilson Bromery was a distinguished geologist, educator and college administrator who never forgot his humble beginnings. He turned his experiences as a young man growing up in segregated Maryland into a lifelong mission to help the oppressed, expand opportunities for racial minorities and advance social justice.

The former University of Massachusetts chancellor, known by many as Bill, died in Danvers last month at the age of 87. Later this spring there will be a memorial service at UMass which will give colleagues a chance to share stories and recollections and celebrate a remarkable life and legacy.

Bromery was one of five children. He was born in Cumberland, Md., in 1926. He told stories from those early years, tales about the teacher in the segregated school who coached him in math, about the machine shop training he underwent in the National Youth Administration and about flying with the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II.

With help from the GI Bill, Bromery took night courses at Howard University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in math and physics. He went on to earn a master’s in geology from American University in Washington, and a doctorate in geology and oceanography from Johns Hopkins University. He spent 20 years as an airborne exploration geophysicist and supervisory research geophysicist for the U.S. Geological Survey.

Locally, Bromery was a respected geophysicist who chaired the UMass Amherst geology department, served as vice chancellor of student affairs and then led the campus as chancellor from 1971 to 1979.

At the time Bromery was only the second African-American to lead an historically white college campus and the first to do so in the Northeast. He worked to expand opportunities for people of color, was an early supporter of African-American studies, secured the papers of W.E.B. DuBois for the university and used his own interest and talent as a jazz musician to recruit top names to UMass Amherst, artists including people like Max Roach, Archie Shepp and Fred Tillis.

UMass President Robert L. Caret, in a statement, described Bromery as someone who was a “transformational figure in public higher education in New England and blazed a trail at the University of Massachusetts. ... He opened the doors of opportunity for African-Americans and other people of color at UMass, and his many contributions can be felt to this day.”

When Bromery stepped down as UMass chancellor in 1979, he did so with a protest about planned tuition increases. In a statement at the time he wrote: “Like many Americans of my generation, I owe my own education to the GI Bill and to publicly supported universities, and have devoted much of my effort over the years to broadening access to higher education, particularly for African-American students. From this experience, I know that high tuition can be a real and perceptual barrier keeping many students from college.”

After the chancellorship Bromery returned to teaching, but he was recruited again for his skills as an administrator, a problem-solver and someone who could bring a steady hand to the tiller of a college campus.

He served as interim president of Westfield State College, chancellor of the state Board of Regents for Higher Education from 1990 to 1991, president of Springfield College from 1992 to 1997, and president of Roxbury Community College from 2002 to 2003.

At the age of 76 he took on the Roxbury post during an exceedingly difficult time in the management of the campus. When reporters asked why he was coming out of retirement, he said, simply, “I still have more to do.” Randolph Bromery’s work is done, but his legacy endures.

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