, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and creator of "The 1619 Project
," was recently denied a tenured position at the University of North Carolina
Hussman School of Journalism
On Wednesday, forty members of the Hussman School's faculty issued a statement on Medium, saying they were "stunned at the failure to award" Hannah-Jones a tenured position, and that the decision was "concerning and disheartening." Their statement also received over 50 additional signatures from professors at other UNC schools, as well as Ph.D. candidates.
Hannah-Jones was named the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism by the University of North Carolina last month.
According to Karen Rundlet, journalism director at the Knight Foundation, “Knight Chairs are highly respected news leaders who bring insights about journalism and support elevating it in the academy,” according to the April
However, faculty members at the journalism school are now questioning why the university withheld tenure upon Hannah-Jones' appointment, noting that faculty at the journalism school had widely supported the New York
Times Magazine reporter receiving tenure.
“This failure is particularly disheartening because it occurred despite the Hussman Dean, Hussman faculty, and university’s support for Hannah-Jones’ appointment as a full professor with tenure,” the statement said.
The faculty later stated that the two Knight chairs who came before Hannah-Jones were appointed with tenure.
“The failure to offer Hannah-Jones tenure in conjunction with her Knight chair appointment unfairly moves the goalposts and violates long-standing norms and established processes relating to tenure and promotion at UNC Chapel Hill,” the statement continued.
Hannah-Jones, the co-founder of the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting, a trade organization dedicated to supporting journalists of color, was notably in charge of the New York Times Magazine's "1619 Project." The powerful Times package explores anti-Black racism
and how slavery
's legacy plagues America today. Hannah-Jones' commentary in her introductory essay for the project earned her the award.
In a statement, UNC faculty members claimed that Hannah-Jones' tenure status was at least partly politically motivated: "The national politicization of universities, journalism, and the social sciences undermines the integrity of and academic freedom within the entire University of North Carolina system."
“We demand explanations from university leadership at all levels,” said the statement.
Instead of tenure, the university offered Hannah-Jones a five-year fixed-term contract. On Wednesday, NC Policy Watch, a news outlet affiliated with the North Carolina Justice Center, published an article accusing members of the UNC Board of Trustees, who have the authority to approve tenured appointments, of acting politically.
A UNC spokesperson directed Stardia to a recording of a virtual press briefing held on Thursday by UNC Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz and UNC Board of Trustees Chair Richard Y. Stevens, during which both Guskiewicz and Stevens addressed the controversy surrounding Hannah-Jones' tenure status.
Stevens denied that the board of trustees had made a final "decision" on Hannah-Jones' tenure.
He stated that the chair of the board of trustees university affairs committee, Charles Duckett, had requested that the review of Hannah-Jones' candidacy be postponed prior to a board of trustees meeting in January where tenure candidates were reviewed.
“In his communication to the provost, trustee Duckett asked questions about Nikole Hannah-Jones’ tenure candidacy and suggested more time to postpone the review to consider those questions as well as her overall application, which is not an unusual action for our committee,” Stevens said.
“As a result, neither the provost nor the chancellor ever made a recommendation on this appointment to the board, nor did the board take any action on this appointment,” he added, emphasizing his point.
According to its website, the UNC Board of Trustees is made up of 13 members: “eight are elected by the UNC Board of Governors, four are appointed by the NC General Assembly, and the remaining member is the president of the student government, ex officio.”
Some historians and conservative voices have criticized the celebrated "1619 Project," which infuriated Senate
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
(R-Ky.), who demanded earlier this month in a letter to Education
Secretary Miguel Cardona that taxpayer-funded programs not include school programs that teach information derived from "The 1619 Project."
According to The Washington Post
, Susan King, the dean of UNC's journalism school, said in a statement that she was disappointed that Hannah-Jones had not yet been offered tenure but that she will be a "star faculty member." King wrote in an email to faculty that the board of trustees was "worried about a non-academic entering the university with this designation."
Stevens had responded to that question on Thursday, telling reporters that it was not uncommon for members of a board or the chair of a committee to have questions or "clarifications" about candidates' backgrounds — especially "especially candidates who don't come from a traditional academic-type background."
Hannah-Jones, who has a master's degree in journalism and mass communication from the University of North Carolina, is a 2017 MacArthur Fellow (also known as a "genius grant" winner).
She did not respond to an inquiry for comment right away.
On Wednesday, Hannah-Jones responded to the widespread support she has since received on Twitter
, writing, "I've been staying off of here today, but just know I see you all and I am grateful."
I've been avoiding this page today, but please know that I see you all and am grateful.— Ida Bae Wells (@nhannahjones) May 20, 2021
on Twitter have continued to criticize the university over Hannah-Jones' tenure:
The decision by the UNC Board of Trustees to deny tenure to Nikole Hannah Jones is incredibly intimidating to junior scholars working on race issues who do not have the protection of tenure; this is about the freedom to produce critical scholarship in an ostensibly democratic society.— jelani cobb (@jelani9) May 19, 2021
UNC-Chapel Hill: “What are your qualifications for tenure?”Nikole Hannah-Jones: “I have a MacArthur Fellowship, also known as a genius grant.”UNC-Chapel Hill: “What else?”NHJ: “A Pulitzer. The highest award for journalism.”UNC-Chapel Hill: “Hmmm... Let me talk to my manager and see what I can do.” https://t.co/1IyGrxoxqH
This is what we mean when we say you have to be twice as good, which is often not enough. https://t.co/kFePo2WSHD—
Mara Gay (@MaraGay) May 19, 2021
It's difficult to see UNC's decision to deny tenure to Nikole Hannah Jones as anything other than an attack
on press freedom
; she's being punished for producing journalism that powerful people dislike and have worked for years to silence.— Wesley (@WesleyLowery) May 19, 2021
@UNC, you are shameful. Denying a tragic history will not make it any less tragic, and grappling with it will help us challenge and change current pain and injustice. Thank you for your work, @nhannahjones. https://t.co/Nmq1L3F5M7—
Be A King (@BerniceKing) May 20, 2021