UNC trustees OK Nikole Hannah-Jones' tenure application

·3 min read

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — Trustees at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill voted Wednesday to accept the tenure application of investigative journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, following weeks of tension that began when a board member halted the process over questions about her teaching credentials.

The board accepted the application at a special meeting that included a closed-door session.

The university announced in April that Hannah-Jones, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her work on the New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project that focused on the country’s history of slavery, would be joining the journalism school’s faculty as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism in July with a five-year contract.

Before Wednesday, the school had said little about why tenure was not offered, but a prominent donor revealed he had emailed university leaders challenging her work as “highly contentious and highly controversial” before the process was halted.

Hannah-Jones attorneys announced last week that she would not report for work without tenure, prompting a call from Student Body President Lamar Richards, who’s also a trustee, for the board to convene a special meeting.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — Weeks of tension over the hiring of investigative journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will now come down to a decision from the school's board of trustees on whether to offer her tenure.

The trustees held a special meeting Wednesday at which they were expected to vote on whether to offer tenure to Hannah-Jones, key architect of The 1619 Project for The New York Times Magazine that explored the bitter legacy of racism. After beginning the meeting Wednesday afternoon, the board then went into closed session.

A small group of protesters refused to leave the meeting room and police attempted to usher them out. They regathered just outside the room, using a bullhorn to shout their frustrations at police who they said pushed them out of the room.

The university had announced in April that Hannah-Jones, who won the Pulitzer Prize for her work on the project, would be joining the faculty in July. She had accepted a five-year contract to join the journalism school’s faculty as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism.

Earlier in the year, Hannah-Jones’ tenure application was halted because she did not come from a “traditional academic-type background,” and a trustee who vets the lifetime appointments wanted more time to consider her qualifications, university leaders had said.

The school has said little about why tenure was not offered, but a prominent donor revealed he had emailed university leaders challenging her work as “highly contentious and highly controversial” before the process was halted.

Some conservatives have complained about The 1619 Project, which focused on the country’s history of slavery.

Board chairman Richard Stevens declined comment through the school on the specific nature of the meeting. But the group NC Policy Watch cited unidentified sources as saying the board would vote on whether to grant Hannah-Jones' application for tenure at the UNC school of journalism and media.

The meeting comes a day before Hannah-Jones was to start at the journalism school. Her attorneys announced last week that she would not report for work without tenure.

Last week, UNC Student Body President Lamar Richards, who’s also a trustee, requested that the board convene a special meeting no later than Wednesday to vote on tenure for Hannah-Jones. Six board members must agree to a request for a special meeting to take place, according to Richards.

The decision by trustees earlier this year to halt Hannah-Jones’ tenure submission sparked a torrent of criticism from within the community. It ultimately revealed a depth of frustration over the school’s failure to answer longstanding concerns about the treatment of Black faculty, staff and students.

Several hundred UNC students gathered near the chancellor’s office last Friday to demand that trustees reconsider tenure for Hannah-Jones.

Tom Foreman Jr., The Associated Press

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