Travel Guides – The Nikole Hannah-Jones tenure debate at UNC-Chapel Hill: What people are saying

The controversy over how UNC-Chapel Hill has dealt with the proposed college appointment of New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones has generated debate throughout the nation about educational freedom and integrity, race and gender discrimination, and the worth of the Time’s 1619 Project, which was led by Hannah-Jones.

Here is a sampling of the dialogue:

▪ “The (Board of Trustees’) decision to defer consideration of her appointment as a Knight Chair with tenure renews community concerns about the racial hierarchies that inform policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.”

— Letter from the UNC School of Law college to the UNC Board of Trustees, shared on Twitter June 25

▪ “As a director of graduate studies, I question the ethics of recruiting Indigenous students and students of color to this place.”

— Sara Smith, affiliate professor of geography at UNC, in a letter despatched to school administration and shared on Twitter June 25

UNC-Chapel Hill Student Body President Lamar Richards speaks throughout a rally at the college Friday, June 25, 2021 demanding trustees approve tenure for Nikole Hannah-Jones, who created The New York Times’ ”1619 Project,” which explores the legacy and historical past of Black Americans and slavery.

▪ “I have spoken to over a dozen incoming undergrads of color and their families over the past week & have more scheduled. Many, if not all, of them are reconsidering coming to Carolina. And I firmly support that decision. I love my people too much & UNC is not worthy of us. Period.”

— Lamar Richards, UNC-CH Student Body President, in a June 15 tweet

▪ “The 1619 Project is a racially divisive and revisionist account of history that threatens the integrity of the Union by denying the true principles on which it was founded.”

Legislation filed by Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and 6 different GOP senators in June to ban the usage of federal funds to show The 1619 Project in Okay-12 colleges

▪ “I care deeply about freedom of speech and freedom of thought. I trust people to think critically, and I don’t think the university is a place where people ought to be afraid of ideas.”

— Kim Talikoff of Chapel Hill, who was protesting the UNC Board of Trustees at the group’s assembly in May

A group of protesters, including Wanda Hunter, Doreen Stein-Seroussiand Kim Talikoff, gathered outside of the UNC Board of Trustees meeting Thursday, May 20, 2021, calling for tenure for Nikole Hannah-Jones.

A bunch of protesters, together with Wanda Hunter, Doreen Stein-Seroussiand Kim Talikoff, gathered exterior of the UNC Board of Trustees assembly Thursday, May 20, 2021, calling for tenure for Nikole Hannah-Jones.

▪ “You do not have to agree with Ms. Hannah-Jones’ conclusions in The 1619 Project to [speak out against her treatment by UNC]. You only have to agree that faculty voice must govern the tenure process for academic integrity to have meaning. If outside bodies, in this case the BOT, without subject matter expertise are the arbiters of faculty scholarship, all faculty members run the risk of being punished for work that questions the status quo, threatens some outside interest, or makes people uncomfortable.”

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— UNC Faculty Chair Mimi Chapman, in an open letter June 20 to the university to take a stand in help of tenure of Hannah-Jones

▪ “The Board of Trustees’ disregard sets a dangerous precedent, as they sacrifice the education of past, present and future students by prioritizing politics over credentials. Particularly as the U.S. continues to heighten its awareness of racial disparities in our society, we are disappointed to see the UNC system continue to miss opportunities that would put us on the right side of history.”

— A letter signed by 10 members of the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media Alumni Board, revealed on Twitter May 21

▪ “I think we know what this is all about. This is sort of about the right-wing truth assassins that don’t want people to know about the … uncomfortable, truthful history about this country.”

— Sunny Hostin, co-host of ABC TV’s “The View,” throughout an on-air conversation on May 21

▪ “I worry about the controversy of tying the UNC journalism school to the 1619 project. 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.”

— Walter Hussman in a December 2020 email to Susan King, dean of the journalism college at UNC that bears Hussman’s title due to his $25 million pledge to help it

Walter Hussman (center) and his wife, Ben, (right) meet with Susan King, the dean of UNC’s School of Media and Journalism (left). The School of Media and Journalism will now be known as the Hussman School of Journalism and Media following a $25 million gift by alumnus Walter Hussman.

Walter Hussman (middle) and his spouse, Ben, (proper) meet with Susan King, the dean of UNC’s School of Media and Journalism (left). The School of Media and Journalism will now be referred to as the Hussman School of Journalism and Media following a $25 million reward by alumnus Walter Hussman.

▪ “Investigative journalists always are involved in controversies. They dig deep, and they raise questions that demand answers. Part of what they do is raise uncomfortable questions for people, institutions and systems.”

— Susan King, dean of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media

▪ “It is not our place to tell U.N.C. or U.N.C./Hussman who they should appoint or give tenure to. It is, however, clear to us that Hannah-Jones is eminently qualified for the appointment, and we would urge the trustees of the University of North Carolina to reconsider their decision within the time frame of our agreement.”

— May statement from Alberto Ibargüen, president of the Knight Foundation, which funds the chair Hannah-Jones was awarded

▪ “This unprecedented decision to treat Hannah-Jones differently from previous Knight Chairs underscores the continued mistreatment and disrespect shown to many Black scholars and professionals at the university. In addition, the lack of transparency amongst university trustees and senior administration in this disturbing case further inflames the perception of failed leadership in matters of cultural competence, inclusivity, and racial justice.”

— June 22 statement by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP

▪ “UNC’s hiring Hannah-Jones signals a degradation of journalistic standards, from one in which ethics and truth are prized to one in which a writer’s work is judged according to whether it serves a preferred political agenda.”

— Jay Schalin, director of policy analysis at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal

▪ “Walking into this University, unfortunately, you are walking into a place where respect is minimal, criticism is high, and quantity is all too few for academics of color — especially Black women. Knowing this and recognizing the critical importance of upholding the integrity and impact of your work, we cannot ask you to come here. We respect your work and your contribution to this country’s history too much for you or your scholarship to be the constant target of disrespect here at Carolina, be it from our leaders in South Building, the Board of Trustees, or Board of Governors.”

— An open letter to Hannah-Jones signed by 31 pupil leaders and advocates revealed in May

▪ “This fight is not about me.”

— Nikole Hannah-Jones, in a May 26 Tweet thanking 1,619 UNC college students and alumnae for a two-page ad in The News & Observer calling for the college to grant tenure to Hannah-Jones

A two two-page ad by UNC alumni in The News & Observer says UNC’s lack of tenure “is an attempt to penalize Nikole Hannah-Jones for her groundbreaking and unvarnished reporting of American history.”

A two two-web page advert by UNC alumni in The News & Observer says UNC’s lack of tenure “is an attempt to penalize Nikole Hannah-Jones for her groundbreaking and unvarnished reporting of American history.”