R.W. Bromery Fund Established at UMass Amherst to Support Minorities in Geosciences

December 1, 1999


AMHERST, Mass. - Randolph "Bill" Bromery, former chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and his wife, Cecile T. Bromery, have established the R.W. Bromery Fund at UMass. The fund is earmarked for the department of geosciences, and will support minority students, preferably African Americans, bring minority guest lecturers to campus, and support fieldwork by geosciences undergraduates. "The fund represents a larger philosophy of increasing the numbers of African Americans in the scientific professions across the board," said Bromery.

The endowment is being funded through the NYNEX Corporation Directors'' Charitable Award Program and is distributed at Bromery''s discretion. It has been launched with an initial contribution of $50,000, which was matched by $25,000 from the University. Bromery, who served as a faculty member in geosciences as well as chair of the department, plans to contribute additional funds over the next five years for a total of $250,000.

"I am very pleased that former Chancellor Bromery has decided to support his ''home department'' at UMass," said Linda Slakey, dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. "I especially appreciate his interweaving scientific and societal goals in a way that will have a broad impact for generations to come."

"This is a generous gesture that will benefit future generations of geoscientists at UMass," said Raymond S. Bradley, current head of the department.

Historically, black people in this country who went to college became doctors, lawyers, and dentists, in order to be self-employed, Bromery pointed out. "A black person could not count on being hired as a professional by a corporation or an institution, because of segregation and discrimination." His own career has not been without brushes with racism, Bromery said. During World War II, he served with the Tuskegee Airmen. Although the all-black unit of the U.S. Army Air Corps later became renowned for its war record, the group was originally formed with the purpose of demonstrating that African Americans were not capable of becoming pilots, he noted.

After the war, he attended Howard University on the GI Bill, earning his bachelor''s degree in mathematics. After his application for a job with the Naval Research Lab was supposedly "lost" four times, Bromery began employment with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) as an airborne exploration geophysicist. He remained with the USGS for nearly 20 years, while earning advanced degrees, part-time and at night. When he earned his Ph.D. in geology from Johns Hopkins University in 1967, Bromery was one of only four African-American geologists with a doctorate in the country

"I remember attending meetings of the Geological Society of America, and out of 3,000 to 5,000 attendees, I would be one of only three African Americans," Bromery recalled. He later was elected and served as the first African-American president of the national organization, and recently received its Distinguished Service Award. Bromery points out that since then, the National Association of Black Geologists and Geophysicists has been established. "As one of the founders of this organization, it is very gratifying to be able to see this change in my lifetime, and to know that I played a role in bringing that change about."

Although his supervisors and fellow crewmembers at the USGS treated him with respect, Bromery said, there were times in the field when he was confronted with discrimination. He recalled a restaurant in Tulsa, Okla., where the hostess was reluctant to seat him with the others, then changed her mind, believing he was Egyptian. "If I were Egyptian, that was okay, but as an African American who had served our country in World War II, I could not be served." Nor could he stay at any of the hotels in Las Vegas; the USGS circumvented the problem by renting an apartment for the crew. There were problems getting a haircut in Laramie, Wyoming, and Bozeman, Montana, and in using the men''s room at the airport in Memphis, Tenn. People in International Falls, Minn., had seen only one other African American, and he was the railroad Pullman car porter, Bromery said. "They did not know how to react to me as a scientist flying in on a big government airplane."

When he came to UMass in the fall of 1967, Bromery said, he was one of just seven black faculty members in a population of more than 1,000 faculty. And of the 18,000 students on campus, just 36 were African American. He and his six black colleagues founded a program to recruit and support black students. The Committee for the Collegiate Education of Black and Minority Students (CCEBMS) has assisted students on campus for more than 30 years. In 1973, Bromery, while serving as chancellor, was also instrumental in securing a permanent home at UMass for the archival writings of the civil rights pioneer and scholar W.E.B. Du Bois, for whom the library is named.

During his tenure at the University, Bromery also was the first vice chancellor for student affairs, before serving as chancellor from 1971-79. Bromery also held administrative posts in the University system and in the state''s higher education system, including University executive vice president, and chancellor of the Board of Regents for Higher Education. He served as interim president of Westfield State College and after retiring from the University, he served as president of Springfield College. He retired from Springfield College in 1998, but remains active in the higher education community and the geosciences. He is writing a book about his youth during the segregation of the 1920s to 1940s, his service with the Tuskegee Airmen, and his life as a professional geologist/geophysicist.