In September of 2020, just weeks after Ibram X. Kendi launched the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University, the school approved a $600,000 mortgage to an unnamed professor. The university won’t say which professor that loan went to, but it was doled out to a trust controlled by Ibram X. Kendi’s brother-in-law, Macharia Edmonds.
The mortgage helped to cover the down payment for a $4.56 million luxury penthouse triplex that boasts the "best of sophisticated Boston living." Public real estate records obtained by the Washington Free Beacon show the trust is controlled by Edmonds, a former Obama campaign official and attorney who now serves as a Global Content Policy Lead for YouTube in San Francisco.
Edmonds's only apparent affiliation with Boston University is through Kendi, who is married to his sister, Sadiqa, also an associate professor at Boston University. Edmonds controls the trust on behalf of its unnamed beneficiary. While it’s not uncommon for universities to provide sweetheart loans and mortgages with below-market rates to poach star professors from their competitors, experts told the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2009 that the IRS strongly discourages such transactions.
Dean Zerbe, a former senior counsel to the Senate Finance Committee, raised questions about why Boston University is doling out loans to its professors in the first place. "There are institutions that actually do provide loans. They’re called banks," Zerbe told the Free Beacon. "People like to get loans at banks, not at universities. It raises a fundamental question of why did you not get a loan from a bank?"
"The reality is, overwhelmingly, when we look at these loans, they are sweetheart deals and they would not have gotten them from a bank," Zerbe added. "And that’s the problem with them."
The mysterious circumstances surrounding the loan raise questions about Kendi’s ties to Boston University.
His Center for Antiracist Research, which raised more than $43 million since June 2020, is under scrutiny after it abruptly laid off most of its staff and cut its budget in half last month after producing hardly any original research. Meanwhile, Kendi has amassed considerable wealth through his "antiracism" work. He received a $625,000 MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant in 2021 and charges up to $20,000 for speaking engagements. Just this week, ESPN+ launched a Kendi-helmed series centered around racism in sports.
Boston University spokeswoman Rachel Lapal Cavallario told the Free Beacon that the beneficiary of the trust is a professor at the university but declined to provide the person’s name, the interest rate of the loan, or how much has been repaid. Cavallario added that the professor "applied for and received the loan under a longstanding university program to assist senior faculty with their housing needs," but declined to provide the Free Beacon any documentation about the university’s faculty home loan program.
Boston University reported in its latest audited financial statements that only "certain employees" are eligible to take out university-backed mortgages and debt, which totaled $8.5 million as of June 30, 2022.
Edmonds and Kendi did not return requests for comment.
It appears unlikely that the trust controlled by Kendi’s brother-in-law could have obtained a similar loan from a traditional bank. Boston University’s $600,000 mortgage to the trust is a non-recourse loan, which means the university can seize the property if the borrower defaults, but can’t come after the borrower for any additional compensation.
Such loans typically come with higher interest rates and are available only to borrowers with excellent credit. But Boston University reported the loans to its employees bore interest rates no greater than 4.91 percent as of June 30, 2022, a rate far lower than the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate of 6.38 percent on that date.
If history is any indication, it’s possible that the school has not collected any of the mortgage debt held by the trust. In 2008, for example, tax filings show it had $3.56 million in outstanding zero percent interest mortgages to 13 professors. Only one of the professors had made any payments on his loan, though some of the loans were over six years old at the time.
Boston University stopped disclosing the names of the professors to whom it provided mortgages in its tax returns after 2008.
Regardless of the circumstances surrounding the loan, Zerbe says the university ought to devote its funds to better things.
"Think of how many students are being crushed by debt and how much they would love to have a zero percent loan from their university," Zerbe said. "And think of how much this is costing the university to do this. The students struggling to meet tuition, they are all shouldering the burden of these sweetheart loans covered by the university."
That’s a message that would resonate with Kendi, who has called on the higher education system to focus on ensuring student debt is "eliminated or at least driven down."
"Black students are disproportionately bearing the weight of student debt," Kendi said in a December 2020 interview with The Business Journals. In the interview, given just months after his brother-in-law’s trust secured the loan, Kendi called on universities to find "new and innovative ways to make college affordable."