Nikole Hannah-Jones won’t join UNC faculty without tenure, lawyers say
Nikole Hannah-Jones says she will not join faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill without a warrant, according to letter from her legal team published by NC PolicyWatch.
Hannah-Jones will not begin her job as Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at the university’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media on July 1, according to the letter released Tuesday. The letter comes amid growing calls for the university to offer the acclaimed journalist post.
UNC spokesperson Joel Curran confirmed that the university had been contacted by attorneys representing Hannah-Jones.
“While this remains a confidential personnel matter… we believe she will bring great value to the Caroline campus,” he said in a statement to USA Today.
The letter pointed out that Hannah-Jones had not withdrawn her application for tenure and had no intention of doing so. Hannah-Jones was offered “inferior terms of employment” due to various forms of discrimination and “unlawful political influence,” according to the letter.
“Under these circumstances, any appointment of Ms. Hannah-Jones without a warrant is unacceptable,” the letter said.
When a professor is tenured, he can only be terminated “in extraordinary circumstances” such as an interrupted program or serious financial restrictions, according to the American Association of University Teachers. According to the association, the tenure is aimed at protecting academic freedom and preventing faculty members from losing their posts because of their speech, work or the results of their research.
Hannah-Jones is the creator of the New York Times Magazine Pulitzer Prize-winning Project 1619, which reframed the history of the United States surrounding slavery and offered an intricate look at the role it played in the American democracy. Her reporting on racial segregation and educational reform also earned Hannah-Jones a 2017 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.
His 1619 Project has since drawn much criticism from conservatives, including former President Donald Trump.
Conservative backlash:Republican state lawmakers want to punish schools that teach Project 1619
Decision on the mandate:UNC board to reconsider Nikole Hannah-Jones tenure decision
Hannah-Jones was offered a five-year contract as the Knight Chair in Racial and Investigative Journalism in April. Every Knight Chair since 1980 has been appointed with tenure, according to Tuesday’s letter. The letter stated that Hannah-Jones understood from the start of the contracting process that her position would include tenure because of this precedent and because “the UNC has repeatedly told her orally and in writing that her hiring process would include a vote on his tenure contract by the UNC Board of Directors.
While lawyers for Hannah-Jones said in the letter that she had completed the terms of the tenure process, including several rounds of meetings with faculty and teaching a course to students for the purposes of evaluation, the board of directors did not vote on his tenure contract.
“To date, she has not received an explanation from the UNC as to why her mandate was denied,” the letter said.
In February, Hannah-Jones was told she could join faculty without tenure, and she agreed to terms to minimize “financial damage” and “damage to her reputation,” according to the letter.
Walter Hussman Jr., editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Herald and one of the university’s major donors, expressed concern over Hannah-Jones’s appointment in an email last year to the Dean of journalism school, reported the Assembly.
“Based on her own words, many will conclude that she is trying to move an agenda forward, and they will assume that she is manipulating historical facts to support it,” he wrote, according to the publication.
Hussman said in an interview with WRAL-TV he did not pressure the leaders of the journalism schools over decisions related to the hiring of Hannah-Jones.
“Since signing the fixed-term contract, Ms. Hannah-Jones has learned that political interference and the influence of a powerful donor contributed to the board’s failure to consider her mandate request,” says the letter. “In light of this information, Ms. Hannah-Jones cannot believe that the University would consider her tenure application in good faith.”
The university has faced backlash – from inside its own campus and beyond – over the council’s decision.
The Carolina Black Caucus reported 70% of its members said they were considering leaving the university, and the school has already lost several high-profile professors and staff, as well as academics that the university has recruited to join its faculty.
Mimi Chapman, president of the university’s faculty, said the council “has remained stubbornly silent” in an open letter on Saturday. She asked that “the campus community speak loudly and with one voice” to request a response from the board.
Nearly 20 Hussman faculty members signed a joint declaration in May, calling the university’s decision to offer Hannah-Jones the non-tenured appointment “disheartening”.
Student leaders, including President of the UNC Chapel Hill Student Body, expressed their support for Hannah-Jones. Student government leaders expressed frustration and disappointment in an open letter to Hannah-Jones, in which they warn him “that the UNC does not create an environment conducive to the development of black academics.”
The organized black college student movement a rally in support of Hannah-Jones scheduled for Friday.
In a previous statementHannah-Jones said she had retained legal counsel “to ensure that the academic and journalistic freedom of black writers is protected to the fullest extent of the law.”
Contribution: Lindsay Schnell, USA Today