Statement on the Board of Trustees’ Decision – Nikole Hannah-Jones
The faculty of the Department of African, African American and Diaspora Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill stand in solidarity with the faculty of the Hussman School of Journalism and Media in condemning the decision by the UNC Board of Trustees to deny Nikole Hannah-Jones’s faculty appointment with tenure and call upon the Board to immediately review and reverse this decision. As a unit whose expertise is in the study of African and African diasporic peoples, we view the refusal to grant Nikole Hannah-Jones tenure as an alarming indication of an indifference (and indeed a hostility toward) the rigor, value, and urgency of a robust body of scholarship that we—and many other scholars in the field nationally and globally—have long labored to build and sustain. More, because this scholarship is essential to the pursuit of racial equity at UNC, this decision undermines the university’s expressed commitment to “racial reckoning” in the wake of the events of the past several years—including the BOG’s attempted settlement with a neo-confederate organization—which have created a hostile environment on campus for Black faculty, staff, and students.
The decision by the BOT to deny Hannah-Jones tenure, despite her undeniable credentials and the unanimous support of her candidacy by faculty and UNC administration, also reveals a remarkable disdain on the part of the BOT for faculty judgment and established procedure. The process of approving applications for tenure requires the input of numerous scholar-peers from both within and beyond the University of North Carolina before the application reaches the BOT. Each of these levels of faculty review found that Hannah-Jones’s accomplishments qualified her for a tenured position in the journalism school at UNC. She is a MacArthur Fellowship recipient, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and one of the most well-known and well-regarded journalists of her generation. The decision to break with this process risks creating a precedent that will have a chilling effect on free speech within the university, resulting in conditions that could ultimately subject faculty candidates to political litmus tests before their appointment. Such conditions would erode the free exchange of ideas on UNC’s campus, and would significantly weaken UNC-Chapel Hill’s position as a center of academic excellence in the region, country, and world. This decision will have wide ramifications for both the reputation of the university and for the everyday work of scholars on UNC’s campus. It is a decision that must be reconsidered.