The controversy over the University of North Carolina’s hiring of 1619 Project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones continues with a faculty protest and silence so far on a legal request that the UNC Board of Trustees reconsider its decision to allow her hiring, but without the tenure normally given distinguished professors.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Publisher Walter Hussman lobbied the head of the UNC journalism school (now named for him following pledge of a $25 million gift) not to hire Hannah-Jones and also objected to her hiring to a member of the board of trustees and university officials.s
USA Today reports that 38 faculty members signed a letter Friday condemning the refusal to grant her tenure.
“It seems apparent that the UNC Board of Trustees has again failed to review Nikole Hannah-Jones’s dossier for appointment as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism with tenure, despite affirmation at all previous levels of rigorous review,” the faculty wrote, adding, “The fact that the Board’s inaction might have resulted from donor influence is especially alarming.”
A letter from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund last week said that a lawsuit was possible if tenure wasn’t granted by Friday. USA Today said:
A spokesperson for UNC-Chapel Hill said in a statement Friday the university “responded to a letter from the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. regarding Nikole Hannah-Jones’ employment.”
“We look forward to continued dialogue with her counsel,” spokesperson Joel Curran said.
The pressure not to hire her at all, or to give her lesser status, has sparked other reactions.
Susan King, dean of the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, said she fears the matter will have a “chilling effect” on current faculty and those they hope to recruit. There’s already one example in another department.
The chemistry department had been trying for two years to recruit chemist Lisa Jones from the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy. She withdrew her candidacy, saying the denial of tenure to Hannah-Jones was “very disheartening.”
Also, there was this:
Meanwhile, the head of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a major funder of the university, recently wrote to the Board of Trustees to express “concern” about the school’s decision not to grant Hannah-Jones tenure, according to a letter obtained by NC Policy Watch this week and confirmed by USA TODAY.
“To honor our commitment to ethical conduct and practices, we ask that the UNC Board help us understand the steps it is taking to ensure that Ms. Hannah-Jones is treated fairly and equitably in decisions regarding her appointment,” CEO Richard Besser wrote.
Republican politicians control most of the seats on the UNC Board of Trustees. In this time of Republican resistance to teaching about racial injustice and specifically the work of Hannah-Jones, a happy resolution seems like a longshot.
Local angle: NC Policy Watch deconstructs Hussman’s criticism of what Hannah-Jones has written. In short, his suggestion that Hannah-Jones had endorsed Black separatism is not borne out in the 1619 Project essay itself or her other work. But it is the sort of thing you see casually uttered as fact by state legislators intent on driving her work from the public arena.