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Letter: Hannah-Jones Won't Join UNC Faculty Without Tenure

Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times investigative journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones will join the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s journalism school in July as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism. The appointment marks a return to the university for Hannah-Jones, who earned a master’s degree at its Hussman School of Journalism and Media in 2003.
Alice Vergueiro
Hannah-Jones won a Pulitzer Prize for her work on The 1619 Project for the New York Times Magazine.

Investigative journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones has told the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in a letter that she will not join the faculty at its journalism school without tenure, a report said Tuesday.

The letter says Hannah-Jones will not begin her position as Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism as scheduled July 1 at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, NC Policy Watch reported. The letter was sent to school officials by Hannah-Jones' legal team.

“Since signing the fixed-term contract, Ms. Hannah-Jones has come to learn that political interference and influence from a powerful donor contributed to the Board of Trustees' failure to consider her tenure application,” the letter said. “In light of this information, Ms. Hannah-Jones cannot trust that the University would consider her tenure application in good faith during the period of the fixed-term contract.”

UNC spokesman Joel Curran acknowledged that the school had been contacted by the attorneys for Hannah-Jones, but didn't respond specifically to the letter.

“While this remains a confidential personnel matter, as Chancellor (Kevin) Guskiewicz has said publicly, we feel she will add great value to the Carolina campus," Curran said.

Hannah-Jones, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her work on The 1619 Project for the New York Times Magazine, had accepted a five-year contract to join the journalism school’s faculty as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism.

The trustee who leads the subcommittee that considers tenure applications, Charles Duckett, chose in January to postpone the review of Hannah-Jones’ submission, said Richard Stevens, the chairman of the board of trustees for the Chapel Hill campus. It was never brought before the full board for approval, and instead the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist accepted a five-year appointment to the faculty of the journalism school.

School leaders said Hannah-Jones could be considered again for tenure before the end of her five-year contract.

In addition, Walter Hussman Jr., publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, said in emails to university leaders that he was concerned about whether Hannah-Jones’ presence at the journalism school would distract from its core values, according to an article in The Assembly. In 2019, Hussman pledged $25 million to the UNC journalism school that bears his name.

The Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism urged the school to reconsider its decision, while members of the journalism school faculty sought an explanation as to why tenure was not offered to Hannan-Jones. A letter signed by various professional athletes, writers and academics last month assailed the university, saying the trustees “failed to uphold the first order values of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas.”

A two-page ad in The News & Observer of Raleigh last month featuring 1,619 alumni and students at UNC-Chapel Hill offered support to Hannah-Jones and called on the school to grant the tenure request. The Baltimore Sun also published an editorial criticizing the school for refusing to gran tenure to Hannah-Jones.

Editor's Note: The Dean of UNC's Journalism School Susan King is a member of WUNC’s Board of Directors, which is appointed by the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees. WUNC maintains editorial independence in all news coverage, including stories involving UNC.

Associated Press
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