The Chair of the Curriculum in Peace, War, and Defense denounces the decision by the Board of Trustees at the University of North Carolina to deny Nikole Hannah-Jones tenure in the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media. Nikole Hannah-Jones is an award-winning journalist, having received a Peabody Award, a Pulitzer Prize, and a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant.” The two previous recipients of the Knight Chair received tenure at the time of their appointment. Therefore, it is unclear why the Board of Trustees arbitrarily decided that Nikole Hannah-Jones was not worthy of this distinction and why the Board usurped the responsibility for hiring decisions from UNC’s faculty and academic leadership. There is no precedent for this action. It is especially galling given hours of scrutiny and vetting by the faculty in the school of journalism, the faculty on the Appointments, Promotion, and Tenure Committees, faculty consulted outside the University, and the Dean and Provost. The faculty identified that Nikole Hannah-Jones is pursuing path-breaking research on the racial history of the United States. This research is consistent with the strategic plan endorsed by the Board of Trustees to emphasize “diversity, equity, and inclusion in teaching, research and service, and in hiring, evaluation, retention, and promotion of under-represented faculty and staff.”
The decision to deny tenure to Hannah-Jones makes a mockery of the University’s strategic plan to promote faculty diversity and inclusive excellence at UNC-Chapel Hill. As leaders in our fields of study, we are closely connected with scholars throughout the country and internationally. Decisions such as this harm the University’s reputation throughout all academic disciplines. Faculty voice must govern the tenure process for academic integrity to have meaning. The failure to protect faculty voice in the tenure process may lead to a system where all faculty members risk being punished for work that questions conventional wisdom, challenges the status quo, or threatens any outside interest. More specifically, this decision also raises questions about whether the University can be a welcoming place to have difficult conversations about race and history. Therefore, the Chair of the PWAD curriculum unequivocally supports the demand by the faculty at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media to tenure Nikole Hannah-Jones as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism without delay.