Journalist and '1619 Project' Creator Nikole Hannah-Jones Granted Tenure at UNC

Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones speaks at Morehouse College's 2021 commencement ceremony.
Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones speaks at Morehouse College's 2021 commencement ceremony.(Getty)

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill originally stated she was not granted tenure because they needed more information concerning her teaching credentials.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) is granting tenure to journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones after months of tense dispute, which allegedly stemmed from her creating The New York Times’ 1619 Project, which reexamined slavery’s role in the United States, for which she won a Pulitzer Prize.

"We welcome Nikole Hannah-Jones back to campus," the UNC's board vice chairman, Gene Davis, said following the closed session Wednesday afternoon. "Our university is not a place to cancel people. Our university is better than that. Our nation is better than that. We embrace and endorse academic freedom and vigorous debate and constructive disagreement.”

After weeks of controversy, the board eventually voted 9-4 in favor of accepting her tenure application.

“Today’s outcome and the actions of the past month are about more than just me,” Hannah-Jones said in a statement published by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. “This fight is about ensuring the journalistic and academic freedom of Black writers, researchers, teachers, and students. We must ensure that our work is protected and able to proceed free from the risk of repercussions, and we are not there yet.”

However Hannah-Jones, who was not at the meeting, was ambiguous about whether or not she will join the faculty.

“These last weeks have been very challenging and difficult and I need to take some time to process all that has occurred and determine what is the best way forward,” the statement continued.

Tension at the meeting came to a head when the special meeting went into closed session when students filed into the on-campus meeting with signs of protest. Some students claim they were forcibly removed.

“You allowed 75 students into this space, most likely knowing you were going to close the session and instead of communicating to students in advance that this session is going to be closed for whatever reason,” said Taliajah Vann, president of the Black Student Movement, according to CBS News.

Hannah-Jones said on Twitter, “It should have been communicated how this meeting would go, that tenure proceedings are always held in closed session, and an attempt made to de-escalate. Instead Black students were shoved and punched because they were confused about the process. This is not right."

The decision comes hours before the date she was scheduled to start her position at UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism on July 1, where she had accepted a position as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism.

She was initially offered a 5-year contract with opportunity for tenure review, while others previously offered a Knight Chair position were granted tenure from the beginning of their contract.

She believed the reason that she was not automatically granted tenure was because of “political interference and influence from a powerful donor,” according to a letter from her lawyers.

The “powerful donor” was allegedly newspaper mogul Walter E. Hussman Jr., for whom the school was named, according to The New York Times. He heads the Arkansas Democrat-Gazelle, along with smaller papers like the Chattanooga Times Free Press and Texarkana Gazette, and some television companies.

Hussman, a major donor to the Hussman School of Journalism, had allegedly emailed the school’s dean, “I worry about the controversy of tying the UNC journalism school to the 1619 project … These historians appear to me to be pushing to find the true historical facts. Based on her own words, many will conclude she is trying to push an agenda, and they will assume she is manipulating historical facts to support it. If asked about it, I will have to be honest in saying I agree with the historians,” The Assembly reported.

Hannah-Jones announced that she would not be joining the university's faculty if she was not granted tenure, in light of this information, she said through a letter from her lawyers. “Ms. Hannah-Jones cannot trust that the university would consider her tenure application in good faith during the period of the fixed-term contract,” read the letter, which was also signed by the NAACP Legal Defense, according to the New York Times.

Hussman, however, clarified in an interview with the New York Times this month that he did not want to influence the board's decision regarding Hannah-Jones' tenure and their decision would not affect his future donations to the school. 

The school originally stated they needed more information about her teaching credentials when they originally declined her tenure.

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