In a letter to school administrators, more than 30 faculty members from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
's chemistry department stated that the university's refusal to grant tenure
to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones
is harming the university and risking further harm.
Hannah-Jones is a highly regarded journalist who specializes in education
reporting. She is also the creator of The New York
Times' "1619 Project," which examines the consequences of slavery
in the United States
and the role African Americans
have played in the country's prosperity. Since the project's publication in 2019, white Republicans
have attempted to censor it in order to conceal its coverage of anti-Black racism
In a letter to UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, faculty from the university's chemistry department stated that Lisa Jones, a world-renowned chemist who withdrew her candidacy for a job at UNC due to the school's refusal to grant Hannah-Jones tenure, is proof that the school's stance is harming its reputation and "is antithetical to everything we value and represent."
Hannah-Jones was named UNC's latest Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism
, a prestigious position at the university, but the university's board of trustees has refused to consider her tenure request since January.
Jones, who holds a doctorate in chemistry and teaches at the University of Maryland
, said she couldn't look past UNC's treatment of Hannah-Jones when deciding whether to join its faculty.
this week that Nikole Hannah-Jones was denied tenure was very disheartening,” Jones, who is Black, wrote in the letter. “It does not seem in line with a school that claims to be interested in diversity
. Although I understand that this decision may not reflect the view
of the school’s faculty, I will say that I cannot see myself accepting a position at a university where this decision stands.
Faculty in UNC's chemistry department said they had been working on Jones' recruitment for the past two years.
“Her letter withdrawing her candidacy to join our faculty reflects what our nation’s minority scholars will be saying about the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as they search for job opportunities or consider whether this University is the right fit,” they warned.
According to a recent report from The Assembly, a North Carolina-based news outlet, the top donor to the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media
, where Hannah-Jones received her master's degree and currently works, privately urged Dean Susan King not to hire her, despite the fact that King has publicly supported Hannah-Jones' request for tenure.
The school's namesake, Walter
Hussman, who has previously appeared on television
with right-wing conspiracy theorist Tucker Carlson
, sent emails complaining that the "1619 Project" didn't give white southerners enough credit for ending racism.
“Long before Nikole Hannah-Jones won her Pulitzer Prize, courageous white southerners risking their lives to advocate for black rights were also winning Pulitzer Prizes,” Hussman wrote in an email last September.
“I am concerned about the controversy surrounding the association of the UNC journalism school with the 1619 project
,” he wrote in a December email.
According to the chair of UNC's Board of Trustees, Charles Duckett, who chairs the committee in charge of bringing tenure requests to a vote, reportedly asked UNC provost Robert Blouin to postpone review of Hannah-Jones' candidacy prior to a full board meeting in January where tenure candidates were reviewed.
“In his communication to the provost, trustee Duckett asked questions regarding Nikole Hannah-Jones’ tenure candidacy and suggested more time to postpone the review to consider those questions and her overall application,” the board chair, Richard Y. Stevens, said last week during a virtual press briefing.
“This is not an unusual occurrence for our committee,” he claimed.
Hannah-Jones resubmitted her tenure application last Thursday, and the NAACP
Legal Defense and Educational Fund informed UNC officials that if the university did not offer her tenure by June 4, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund would file a lawsuit
on her behalf, according to the website NC Policy Watch
Hannah-Jones stated in a statement last Friday that her fight for tenure is about America's purported democratic
“As a Black woman who has spent nearly two decades in journalism, I believe Americans who research
, study, and publish works that expose uncomfortable truths about the past and present manifestations of racism in our society should be able to do so without jeopardizing their civil and constitutional rights,” she said.
“I had no intention of causing upheaval or a political firestorm at the university I adore, but I feel obligated to fight back against a wave of anti-democratic suppression that seeks to prohibit the free exchange of ideas, silence Black voices
, and chill free speech.”
On May 25, over 250 academics, writers, and other public figures issued a statement condemning UNC's board of trustees for refusing to grant Hannah-Jones tenure and decrying "this rising tide of suppression and the threat to academic freedom that it embodies."
More than 1,500 UNC alumni and current students issued a statement last week through a full-page ad in the Charlotte News and Observer, totaling 1,619 in total.
“Dismissing a list of accomplishments that includes a Pulitzer Prize, Peabody Award, and MacArthur Genius Grant is an attempt to penalize Nikole Hannah-Jones for her groundbreaking and unvarnished reporting of American history
,” the statement said.