Nikole Hannah-Jones Denied Tenure at University of North Carolina

Nikole Hannah-Jones, a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times Magazine writer, was denied employment at the University of North Carolina after the university’s board of trustees took the highly unusual step of not approving the journalism department’s recommendation.

The decision was criticized on Wednesday by faculty members who said the last two people in the position that Ms. Hannah-Jones will hold will be granted a term following her appointment.

In late April, the university announced that Ms. Hannah-Jones had been appointed Knight Chair of Racial and Investigative Journalism at the UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media. She will start as a professor in July and continue writing for The Times Magazine. In lieu of tenure, Ms. Hannah-Jones was offered a five-year professorial contract with the option of review.

In the April announcement, the School of Journalism Dean Susan King said, “Now one of America’s most respected investigative journalists will work with our students on projects that will advance their careers and stimulate critical conversations.”

The hiring of Ms. Hannah-Jones, who received a master’s degree from the university in 2003 and a MacArthur scholarship in 2017, sparked backlash from conservative groups concerned about her involvement in Times Magazine’s 1619 project, which came after the The year was named Slavery began in the colonies that were to become the United States. (Ms. Hannah-Jones won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for her introductory essay.)

The 1619 project sparked a Continuing the debate on the legacy of slavery, however, it has been criticized by some historians over certain allegations and by conservatives who have termed them “propaganda”. Republican-controlled North Carolina legislation appoints the university system’s board of governors, which has significant control over the university’s board of trustees.

The NC Policy Watch website reported Wednesday that the UNC Board of Trustees had declined to approve Ms. Hannah-Jones’ application for tenure. A spokeswoman for the university, Joanne Peters Denny, said in a statement that “details of the hiring processes of individual faculties are personal information”.

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May 19, 2021, 2:36 p.m. ET

Ms. Hannah-Jones declined to comment. On Wednesday evening she wrote on Twitter: “I stayed away from here today, but I just know that I can see you all and I am grateful.”

Almost 40 faculty members of the journalism school signed an online statement Wednesday calling for the decision to be overturned. She said that Ms. Hannah-Jones did not grant tenure, “moves the goalposts unfairly and violates long-standing norms and established processes.” The statement added, “This failure is particularly disheartening because it occurred despite the support for Hannah-Jones’ tenure by the Hussman dean, the Hussman faculty and the university.”

It continued, “Hannah-Jones’ remarkable record of more than 20 years in journalism exceeds expectations for a permanent position as a Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism.”

Alberto Ibargüen, the president of the Knight Foundation, said that while the foundation funds the position of the Knight Chair at UNC, it has no role in the appointment. The agreement provides for a five-year appointment with a tenure review within that period, he said.

“It is not our job to tell UNC or UNC / Hussman who to appoint or who to give a term of office,” Ibargüen said in a statement. “However, we understand that Hannah-Jones is eminently qualified for the appointment and we urge the University of North Carolina Trustees to reconsider their decision within the timeframe of our agreement.”

Ms. Hannah-Jones’ editors expressed their support on Wednesday. “Nikole is a remarkable investigative journalist whose work has helped transform the national conversation about race,” said Dean Baquet, editor-in-chief of the New York Times.

Jake Silverstein, editor of Times Magazine, strongly defended her and her work.

“Nicole’s journalism, whether it’s about school segregation or American history, has always been brave, unwavering, and dedicated to telling awkward truths that some people just don’t want to hear,” said Silverstein. “It doesn’t always make her popular, but it’s part of why her voice is necessary.”

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