The latest round in the controversy over whether 1619 Project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones will go to work as a distinguished professor at the University of North Carolina is a letter from her lawyers saying she won’t take the job without the tenure she was originally offered.
The UNC Board of Trustees, controlled by Republicans, has resisted approving tenure and hasn’t yet responded to a call for consideration of the issue. The journalism faculty, including the dean, back Hannah-Jones.
She was recruited by the university and was supposed to become the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media in July. But objections arose, including from Arkansas Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter Hussman Jr. The school was named in his honor after he promised a $25 million gift, apparently not yet fully paid.
Hannah-Jones has been offered a five-year contract without tenure. That’s not good enough, her lawyers say. The university hasn’t responded except to acknowledge the letter.
It hasn’t been said explicitly that the Board’s failure to act is related to Hannah-Jones’ prize-winning work on the history and impact of slavery in the U.S. But, really. Is rain wet?
Walter E. Hussman Jr., an Arkansas newspaper publisher and major donor to the university, wrote in an email last year to the dean of the journalism school — which bears Hussman’s name — “I worry about the controversy of tying the UNC journalism school to the 1619 project,” according to news site the Assembly.
Hussman said he did not pressure the journalism school dean and denied threatening to withhold the balance of his $25 million commitment to the school if Hannah-Jones was hired.
But the ordeal appears to have further threatened Hannah-Jones’s future at the university.
“Since signing the fixed-term contract, Ms. Hannah-Jones has come to learn that political interference and influence from a powerful donor contributed to the Board of Trustees’ failure to consider her tenure application,” according to the letter from Hannah-Jones’s legal team. “In light of this information, Ms. Hannah-Jones cannot trust that the University would consider her tenure application in good faith during the period of the fixed-term contract.”
The letter continues: “Such good faith consideration for tenure was understood to be an essential element of the fixed-term contract when Ms. Hannah-Jones agreed to enter into it.”
UPDATE: In a statement given to the New York Times Hussman said it wasn’t clear if he was the donor to whom Hannah-Jones’ letter referred. He said UNC had other large donors. He cited the CEO of a larger donor, the Robert Wood Foundation. It, however, SUPPORTS tenure for Hannah-Jones, so its intervention wouldn’t likely cause her concern about job security.