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Tenure For '1619 Project' Journalist Resubmitted To UNC Trustees

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Alice Vergueiro
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Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones's tenure is back on the table after the offer was initially downgraded to a five-year term.

The offer of a tenured teaching position to journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones has been resubmitted to the board of trustees at a North Carolina university that faced an uproar last week when her tenure application was halted.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced last month that Hannah-Jones — who won the Pulitzer Prize for her work on The New York Times Magazine's 1619 Project, which focused on the U.S. history of slavery — had been offered a position as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism.

But the school changed its offer from a tenured position to a five-year term as a professor with an option for review at the end of that time, as first reported last week by NC Policy Watch.

On Wednesday, Chuck Duckett, a member of the board of trustees, confirmed to The Associated Press that a resubmitted offer with tenure has been sent to the board. He said he received the resubmission Tuesday from the university’s Appointments, Personnel and Tenure Committee, which is made up of tenured professors.

Duckett told The News & Observer of Raleigh that he received Hannah-Jones’s tenure dossier and list of experiences and background with Tuesday’s submission and that he had not seen them before. His committee vets candidates before the full board votes for approval.

Hannah-Jones was part of a slate of tenure candidates proposed by Provost Bob Blouin to be considered at the January 2021 board meeting. Duckett contacted Blouin with questions about Hannah-Jones’s candidacy and asked to postpone the review.

While the offer has been resubmitted, there is no guarantee that there will be a vote, or that the trustees will take up the issue when the board meets on July 14 and 15, after Hannah-Jones is set to start her job as the Knight Chair for Race and Investigative Journalism at UNC-CH.

NC Policy Watch reported Wednesday that three board members said they expect the matter to come to a full vote of the board by the end of June. Duckett had no additional comments for the AP on Wednesday.

After Hannah-Jones’ tenure application was halted, faculty members of the university’s school of journalism and media said the decision was especially concerning given that she had the full support of the journalism school’s dean, Susan King. They said the decision also violated established tenure and promotion procedures at UNC-Chapel Hill.

On Monday, faculty and student leaders at the university demanded that trustees officially reconsider tenure for Hannah-Jones. Susan King, dean of the school of journalism and media, expressed continued support for Hannah-Jones on Twitter.

“On behalf of our school and our students I hope the Board of Trustees will vote on @nhannahjones tenure package. I think they will be impressed as are we,” King tweeted.

On Tuesday, a letter signed by various professional athletes, writers and academics assailed the university, saying the trustees “failed to uphold the first order values of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas.”

“We will cheer Nikole Hannah-Jones on when she steps into her classroom at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill this fall,” the letter said. “But we will not turn away from the regrettable circumstances under which she will do so.”

A two-page ad in The News & Observer featuring 1,619 alumni and students at UNC-Chapel Hill offered their support of Hannah-Jones and called on the school to grant the tenure request.

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.

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