Here’s a news article relevant to the recent Arkansas legislature, including a connection to a prominent media figure in Arkansas.
NC Policy Watch reports that the University of North Carolina retreated from an original plan to give a tenured professorship to Nikole Hannah-Jones, instead giving her a five-year contract that could be renewed as a tenured position.
She’s the Pulitzer Prize winner and MacArthur genius grant recipient who led the New York Times’ 1619 Project, much hated by Republicans because it writes of four centuries of persistent racism in America and the continuing price exacted from enslavement.
The Arkansas legislature managed to conclude without outlawing any teaching from the 1619 Project, as Mark Lowery and others had hoped though it preserved legislation to prevent the teaching of “divisive concepts.” But the battle to stifle voices such as Hannah-Jones’ rages on (from the same people moaning about “cancel culture.”) Policy Watch recounts this back story, missing from announcements of her hiring last month:
As Policy Watch reported last week, UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media pursued Hannah-Jones for its Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism, a tenured professorship. But following political pressure from conservatives who object to her work on “The 1619 Project” for The New York Times Magazine, the school changed its plan to offer her tenure — which amounts to a career-long appointment. Instead, she will start July 1 for a fixed five-year term as Professor of the Practice, with the option of being reviewed for tenure at the end of that time period.
“It’s disappointing, it’s not what we wanted and I am afraid it will have a chilling effect,” said Susan King, dean of UNC Hussman.
The UNC school of journalism was renamed for Walter Hussman, owner and publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette after he made a $25 million gift to the school, his alma mater. Hannah-Jones earned a master’s degree there.
It might be a victory that Hannah-Jones was hired at all. Writes Policy Watch:
Last summer, Hannah-Jones went through the rigorous tenure process at UNC, King said. Hannah-Jones submitted a package King said was as well reviewed as any King had ever seen. Hannah-Jones had enthusiastic support from faculty and the tenure committee, with the process going smoothly every step of the way — until it reached the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees.
The board reviews and approves tenure applications. It chose not to take action on approving Hannah-Jones’s tenure.
“I’m not sure why and I’m not sure if that’s ever happened before,” King said.
UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz stood up for Hannah-Jones before the board, King said, telling the members she was such a strong candidate that he was willing to bring her on in a fixed-term position with the opportunity to be approved for tenure after five years.
That’s a departure from the school’s usual practice. Knight Chairs, sponsored by the Knight Foundation, are important and influential journalists who bring their expertise to the classroom at some of the nation’s most respected universities. While continuing their work in journalism, Knight Chairs offer students the perspective they’ve gained through their experience in the industry.
Not all Knight Chair professors are tenured. But since UNC began working with the foundation in 1980, all of those teaching at the flagship Chapel Hill campus have been. Fixed-term positions, like the one now being offered to Hannah-Jones, do not need board approval.
“It was a work-around,” a UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees member told Policy Watch this week.
The board member, who had direct knowledge of the board’s conversations about Hannah-Jones, asked not to be identified so that they could discuss a confidential personnel process. “It’s maybe not a solution that is going to please everyone. Maybe it won’t please anyone. But if this was going to happen, this was the way to get it done.”
If the subject interests you, be sure to read the earlier Policy Watch report on the outpouring of conservative anguish about Hannah-Jones’ hiring.
[Daniel] Kreiss, the UNC journalism professor, said groups so closely connected to the UNC Board of Governors denouncing individual hires is an unfortunate example of the continued politicization of the university system and its campuses.
“This is kind of cancel culture at its finest,” Kreiss said. “It shouldn’t be ironic, but it’s a message saying academic freedom and local autonomy don’t matter in making decision for what’s best for our schools. It’s a message that somehow the faculty, who also come from all walks of life and political persuasions, by the way, can’t decide what is best for our students and who to hire.”
“It strikes me as quite meddlesome in the affairs of a storied journalism program with a world class faculty,” Kreiss said. “But it’s an extension of national politics, this idea that we shouldn’t have an honest accounting of and debate about America’s racial history, about racial equality. It’s obvious to me that Nikole Hannah-Jones is a target for national outrage over that and in this case is standing in for a lot of things in that national debate.”
Politicize education? Welcome to Darkansas.
UPDATE: The UNC situation is heating up.
Our statement: as @UNCHussman faculty, we are stunned at the failure to award tenure to @nhannahjones a Pulitzer Prize, Peabody, & MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant winner & UNC-Chapel Hill 2019 Distinguished Alumna https://t.co/jfiq1sqcsw
— Shannon McGregor, PhD (@shannimcg) May 19, 2021
Maybe they can get some editorial support from the school’s namesake.