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UNC Chapel Hill reaches settlement agreement with journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones

Faculty members of a North Carolina university want an explanation for the school's reported decision to back away from offering a tenured teaching position to Nikole Hannah-Jones. Hannah-Jones' work on the country’s history of slavery has drawn the ire of conservatives. A report in NC Policy Watch on Wednesday, May 19, 2021 said Hannah-Jones was to be offered a tenured professorship as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Courtesy John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Creative Commons
File photo of journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, whose work on the country’s history of slavery has drawn the ire of conservatives.

Updated at 10:55 a.m. on Tuesday, July, 19

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has reached a settlement agreement with journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones that resolves what UNC officials call "potential legal action" arising from her halted application for a tenured position at the university.

Hannah-Jones announcedlast summer that she was rejecting a job offer from UNC and instead accepted a chaired professorship at Howard University, a historically Black institution. That came after a lengthy battle over her tenure.

"The steps taken to resolve the lingering potential legal action posed by Ms. Hannah-Jones will hopefully help to close this chapter and give the University the space to focus on moving forward,” David Boliek, chairman of the Board of Trustees at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said in a statement. He added that a formal lawsuit was never filed by Hannah-Jones’ attorneys.

Boliek said the settlement with Hannah-Jones was for less than $75,000 and was approved by school Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, media outlets reported.

In a series of tweets, Hannah-Jones said that dollar amount was accurate, but that the settlement was "about much more." She said the settlement includes UNC-Chapel Hill "committing to training 20 faculty and staff as (paid) search and selection process advisors to help diversify university hiring."

The settlement also includes a newly created position for a trauma-informed therapist within the Multicultural Health Program, Hannah-Jones said. It also includes funds to pay for meeting expenses, events and symposia sponsored by the Carolina Black Caucus — $5,000 per year, through June 2025, according to Hannah-Jones.

As part of the agreement, the school will "accelerate its investment in crucial initiatives in Carolina Next, its strategic plan, to further that ongoing work," said Associate Vice Chancellor of University Communications Beth Keith in a statement. The school did not offer details on what those crucial initiatives entail.

Hannah-Jones' lawyers said in a statement that they "believe this settlement will help support the ongoing work towards addressing racial inequity at the university." Hannah-Jones is "grateful to have this matter behind her" and that she "looks forward to continuing her professional work" related to investigative journalism and exposing racism in society, the lawyers said. They would not specify the settlement amount when asked by WUNC.

Last year, UNC-CH trustees delayed a vote on her tenure application to the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media for months — sparking protests and numerous statements of support from students, alumni and faculty. Her application was halted because she did not come from a “traditional academic-type background,” and trustee Charles Duckett, who vets the lifetime appointments wanted more time to consider her qualifications, university leaders had said.

Ultimately,the university's trustees, including Duckett, voted 9-to-4 to offer her tenure.

Tenure confers a lifetime appointment to the university and academic freedom to pursue research interests. Hannah-Jones' work at The New York Times Magazine has centered on the legacy of racism in the United States, most notably with the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project, which some conservatives have criticized.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Elizabeth “Liz” Baier is WUNC’s Supervising Editor for Race, Class and Communities. She has two decades of experience than span print, audio, and digital reporting and editing.
Laura Pellicer is a digital reporter with WUNC’s small but intrepid digital news team.
Mitchell Northam is a Digital Producer for WUNC. His past work has been featured at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, SB Nation, the Orlando Sentinel and the Associated Press. He is a graduate of Salisbury University and is also a voter in the AP Top 25 poll for women's college basketball.
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