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Springfield College’s lone Black president: Dr. Randolph Bromery

By Cait Kemp
@caitlinkemp09

As found through a simple Google search of his name, Randolph William Bromery was “an American educator and geologist, and a former Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Amherst.”

It goes on to state that he established the W.E.B. DuBois archives at UMass Amherst, and was involved with starting the Five College Consortium. What is not stated in the initial search is the rest of the outstanding resume Dr. Bromery acquired, along with being the first and only Black president of Springfield College.

Bromery was born in Cumberland, Md. on Jan. 18, 1926. After high school, he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps to become a pilot. He went on to fight in World War II in Italy as part of the 332nd Fighter group, more famously known as the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African American flying unit in the U.S. military.

It’s impressive to note that the Tuskegee Airmen were among the most successful and decorated groups of those during WWII in the European theater. Being grouped by race due to the segregation that ensued throughout the country, they proved their ability and skill nonetheless.

After the war ended in 1945, Bromery enrolled at Howard University in Washington D.C. but dropped out to pursue a career as an airborne exploration geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey, becoming one of the first African American geophysicists in the country.

It was at Howard University that Bromery met his wife and lifelong partner, Cecile. The couple married in 1947 and had five children together. Mrs. Bromery unfortunately just recently passed away on Jan. 21 of this year at the age of 95, due to complications of COVID-19.

After returning to school and getting his degree, he arrived at the University of Massachusetts Amherst as a professor in 1969 but quickly worked his way up the ranks.

He became Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, then Chancellor of the university. At UMass, he was able to make a lot of improvements, as he did at every school he was involved with.

One of the largest accomplishments he made during his time there was securing the W.E.B. DuBois papers for the UMass archives. They were highly desired, most challenged by Harvard where DuBois received his second bachelor’s degree.

When Bromery was Chancellor at UMass, Donald Brown was fresh out of college working as the director of the Upward Bound program at the university. He recalls Bromery offering him compassion and encouragement after running into some issues with civil rights demonstrations that were taking place.

“Got myself into some situations at UMass Amherst, I was a young activist as I was at Springfield College in 1969 taking over the administration building, continued doing that even though I was an administrator at UMass Amherst,” said Brown. “Okay, [I] made some mistakes but I think Dr. Bromery recognized, as John Lewis talked about, that I got myself into ‘Good trouble’, I was doing it for the right reasons. Somebody else may have fired me, but Dr. Bromery did not.”

Bromery went on to become president at then Westfield State College in 1988, where he similarly worked to build up the institution.

It was at Westfield State that Dr. Carlton Pickron first met Bromery. Pickron was most recently the Vice President of Student Affairs at Westfield State, retiring in 2019, but remembers his early days as part of the staff when Bromery was president.

“It was an absolutely phenomenal experience to work with such a leader, compassionate, intelligent person with a wide array of life experiences that I couldn’t even imagine,” he said. “So, having him as not only a supervisor but to become a mentor to me, which was absolutely fantastic. The only disappointing part was it was too short.”

When Bromery was president at Westfield, Pickron was trying to get the job of Director of the Career Center. He said that he had applied for this position, but was then asked to go in for a meeting with Bromery.

”[Bromery] said, ‘Well, why I called you here was because I wanted to give you an option’…. I still had no clue what was up or what was going on. He said, ‘I would like for you to be my Assistant to the President,’” said Pickron.

This is just one example of Bromery’s generosity and kindness towards others. He offered a unique position to Pickron because he saw his potential and skill early on in his career.

Pickron noted, “We still continued our relationship with him mentoring me as I went on professionally.”

Bromery wasn’t expecting to become the permanent president of Springfield College; in fact that wasn’t even part of the plan still a year after he had been at the college.

He was asked in 1991 by Walter C. Wilson, chair of the Board of Trustees at SC, to be the interim president while a national search was carried out to find the permanent replacement for former president, Frank Falcone.

It was a period of transition for the school, and they needed a leader that would help to make valuable improvements for the campus and community. As stated in Springfield College: In Spirit, Mind, and Body, Notes and Scenes from Our First 125 Years by Richard C. Garvey and Ronald S. Ziemba, “The task now confronting Bromery was simply stated, but difficult to accomplish: Heal Springfield College.”

In his convocation speech, Bromery said, “I accept the challenge with humility and also with determination… I don’t want you to lose confidence in where you are now, where you have been, and where you are going to go.”

This sense of dedication prevailed, as Bromery did not hesitate to begin the tasks on the to-do list. One of his main goals was to improve communication and relationships within the Springfield College community, as well as with others outside of it.

Early on, Bromery developed a very strong relationship between Springfield College and William N. DeBerry School, which was an elementary school located nearby. It was through this relationship that the Partners Program that is still flourishing today was created, helping many young children to bond and make connections while having the chance to learn.

A big change that Bromery was a part of at SC was the transition to Division III athletics in all men and women sports. His idea was to begin to play against other small, private institutions that shared their ideals of higher academics, while maintaining impressive athletics as well.

He said, “The College has a niche, and athletics is one of the strengths. With the move to Division III, we can begin to schedule schools we should be associated with, academically and athletically.”

Throughout his time at Springfield College, Bromery had to take a medical leave due to radiation he needed for prostate cancer. Away from campus more than intended, he still continued to help the college to make positive improvements to the environment.

Some of these improvements included more stations in the campus computer room, a decrease in the cost of food at Cheney, new turf for Benedum Field, and renovations on Blake track.

However, after a productive six years of leadership with Springfield College, Bromery made the decision to retire in 1997.

He said, “Serving as president has been, [and] will continue to be, a most satisfying chapter in my professional and personal life which I shall always cherish.”

Although his third college administration job, Springfield College was not the end of the line for him. Bromery served as interim president for Roxbury Community College from 2002-2003, helping to build up the programs as he did at the other schools he previously worked at.

Dr. Bromery was a man of many achievements, an “outstanding American,” as said by Pickron. He never seemed to be done working, and he was able to make a distinct contribution to every organization that he was involved in.

“My respect for him is just huge. This man, an American hero who happened to be an African American that has… clearly done great things for our country, for every college and university he has been a part of,” Pickron said.

Bromery passed away in 2013 at age 87 after a lifetime of accomplishment. This year, UMass announced they will be naming the Fine Arts Center after Bromery because of his love of music and efforts that brought famous jazz musicians to the UMass faculty.

Bromery’s contributions will continue to be celebrated at the colleges, universities, and organizations he was a part of, and his name should be remembered within the Springfield College community.

Photo Courtesy of UMass Amherst

1 comment

  1. Lest Springfield forget the deadly damage done by Bromery: the death of civil rights activist and SC chaplain The Rev. Dr. Ken Childs:

    NormallyNational Association of Scholars

    Turning Springfield College Into a Re-Education Camp
    By Brad Wilson
    Executive Director of the National Association of Scholars,
    Princeton, New Jersey

    January 5–On the face of it, (a) race-based scholarship looks to be unconstitutional. But that’s not the only remarkable thing about it. Randolph Bromery, the benefactor, is mentioned in the article as a former president of Springfield College. What is not mentioned are his efforts to turn Springfield College into a re-education camp and the circumstances of his departure from Springfield. Here is what I wrote on this matter in a past NAS newsletter:

    Take the administration of President Randolph Bromery at Springfield College in Massachusetts, worthy of dishonorable mention in the next edition of The Shadow University. Mr. Bromery, a geophysicist by training and a former chancellor of the University of Massachusetts, decided to make “diversity” the main concern of university life in 1997. Committees were appointed to advance a
    diversity agenda. The Institutional Priorities Committee dutifully issued a report on the president’s behalf announcing that “the emphasis for Springfield College should be on individuals of various racial/ethnic categories, individuals with disabilities, and individuals from other countries. It is also important to note that the diversity of faculty is of critical importance under this priority and that the
    Committee also seeks a more diverse staff population.”

    A few years after the campus had been thrown into turmoil by the administration’s politically correct action to change the name of the college’s sports teams from the Chiefs to the Pride, the Racial Diversity Committee brought in a Native American activist to stir things up again, resulting in the
    student takeover of an administration building. The committee also satisfied its social conscience by issuing imperious decrees like this one: “On Wednesday, October 30, at 10:15 a.m., every member of the Springfield College campus community will stop and listen, will listen and learn, and will learn and speak about racism here (especially here) and elsewhere. This opportunity to join together for social justice represents the essence of the philosophy and mission of our College.”

    Mandatory faculty development programs, formerly devoted to nonpolitical pedagogical issues, were enlisted as weapons in the war for social transformation. For example, the spring 1997 Faculty Institute had racial diversity as its theme. There, members of the faculty were compelled to participate in sessions like the following:
    “I. Teaching Racism by Ommission [sic]. This session looks at how racism is taught by what we omit in the curriculum, through readings, assignments, references, and classsroom [sic] discussion.
    “II. Recognizing Racism in the Classroom. In this session methods of recognizing various overt and covert forms of racism are offered including, how issues of race are embedded in everyday language.
    “III. What does racism have to do with what and how I teach? Regardless of the demographic make-up of a class or the particular content of a class, race is often a significant dynamic in the classroom. This session offers an opportunity to discuss the pervasiveness of race in the college context.
    “IV. Issues of race in teaching Science, Math and Computer Technology. How issues of race are revealed through factors such as teaching methods, student selection and retention and curriculum design.”

    One faculty member who attended (he dared not skip it) sent a letter to his colleagues describing the experience and what it had meant for him: “I and other more senior colleagues were made to walk in a circle asking and answering preset questions and confessing to alleged ‘secret racist predispositions’ to perfect strangers. The entire exercise was infantile and humiliating.”

    The shadow university at Springfield College did not go unchallenged. A group of faculty joined with the director of campus ministry, Kenneth Childs, to produce a publication by and for Springfield faculty. With its motto, “Hey! It’s Just Our Opinion!,” the journal published articles by Rev. Childs (who had long worked for social justice, including produce pickers’ rights along side Cesar Chavez) and others that often took issue with decisions of the college president and his administration.

    Springfield College President Bromery fired Rev. Childs from the position he had held for twenty-six years, informing him in writing that his criticism of the president and his administration was “fostering dissention [sic] among College constituencies.” When Rev. Childs returned with his wife to the campus ministry center on July 28 to pack up his belongings, he found that the lock on his office
    door had been changed, and was forced to withdraw materials witnessing to his lifetime of service to his college under the supervision of campus police. Later that evening, Reverend Childs, fifty-six years of age and, before July 22 at least, in perfect health, died of a massive heart
    attack.

    Soon after Rev. Childs’ death, the Board of Trustees of Springfield College released a memorandum to the college announcing President Bromery’s abrupt retirement. Further corrupting the integrity of the college they govern, the trustees (in an all too common public ritual) praised Mr. Bromery for his
    “distinguished service to the College” and for his “highly successful career,” making no mention of the reasons for his departure, no mention that a grievous wrong had been done by Mr. Bromery to a colleague with twenty more years than he of “distinguished service to the College.”

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