The Pulitzer Prize winning author was recruited for the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism.
“It’s disappointing, it’s not what we wanted, and I am afraid it will have a chilling effect,” Susan King, dean of UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media, said after author Nikole Hannah-Jones was not approved for tenure. Known as the lead investigative journalist on The 1619 Project, Hannah-Jones had complaints lobbied by conservative groups angered at her recent opportunity, as reported by NC Policy Watch.
Hannah-Jones was recruited for the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism which, at the UNC-Chapel Hill campus, is typically a tenured position. In layman's terms, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author would have a guaranteed position with the role. However, the former UNC student was offered by the university a non-tenured professorship after going through an extensive approval process.
The MacArthur Fellowship “Genius Grant” recipient has yet to make a comment about the news.
A UNC-Chapel Hill spokesperson shared a statement: “The details of individual faculty hiring processes are personal protected information.”
The past two years have found The 1619 Project and Hannah-Jones under scrutiny by conservative groups across the country and even former President
Donald Trump. Last September, Trump announced the signing of an executive order to create the “1776 Commission” to promote a “patriotic education,” while blasting efforts by the project and its architects to reexamine American history.
Those groups specifically called out Hannah-Jones’s role in The 1619 Project, which examines the role slavery and racism played in America’s founding. Critics such as Sean Wilentz have called the New York Times’ published piece “a scrupulous regard for factual accuracy,” while former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich called the project “brainwash.” Some states have also sought to ban it from classrooms.
With the board declining to take action on Hannah-Jones’s application, UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz offered her a fixed-term position—with an opportunity for tenure in five years—that does not require board approval. “It was a work-around,” a member of the board of trustees told Policy Watch.
After word spread, 24 faculty members of Hussman School of Journalism and Media faculty signed a public statement asking the school to change its decision.
“We call on the university’s leadership to reaffirm its commitment to the university, its faculty and time-honored norms and procedures, and its endorsed values of diversity, equity, and inclusion,” the statement read. “The university must tenure Nikole Hannah-Jones as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism.”
Thought leader Jelani Cobb, a prominent New Yorker staff writer and Columbia University Journalism School professor, also weighed in on Twitter
It should also be pointed out that this is not simply about NHJ or even the 1619 Project but the spear’s tip of a broader assault on academic freedom — the attacks on Critical Race Theory and antiracism are part of this. It may silence and intimidate young untenured scholars.— jelani cobb (@jelani9) May 19, 2021