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Protests Erupt After Nikole Hannah-Jones Denied Tenure at UNC


Faculty members from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (UNC-Chapel Hill) gathered at the university to protest a board of trustees’ decision to withhold tenure from Nikole Hannah-Jones, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist known for her work on The 1619 Project for The New York Times.

In addition to her Pulitzer, Hannah-Jones has also received a MacArthur Fellowship “Genius Grant.” However, even with the support of the UNC-Chapel Hill chancellor and faculty, she has not been granted tenure at her alma mater.

Discourse on the 1619 Project

Hannah-Jones applied for tenure at UNC-Chapel Hill, and in April, the university announced that she would be joining the faculty in July. However, rather than immediately offering her a tenure-track position, it was revealed that the school would instead offer Hannah-Jones a fixed five-year contract with the opportunity to be considered for tenure before it ended.

Plenty of netizens and various news outlets such as CNN, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and USA Today have speculated that the decision to deny Hannah-Jones tenure may be politically motivated.

Denial of Tenure ‘Politically Motivated?’

The 1619 Project first began in August 2019, in honor of the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. According to AP News, the project is meant to examine the country’s history from an oft-neglected perspective, by “placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.”

Hannah-Jones was behind the project, collaborating with staff writers, photographers, and editors to bring about the initiative. The work has generated controversy, spurring debate among academics, journalists, and politicians. Despite this at times contentious reception, Hannah-Jones and the Times remained steadfast in supporting the project, and she was awarded the 2020 Pulitzer for commentary.

No ‘Traditional Academic-Type Background’

According to AP News, university officials explained that Hannah-Jones was denied tenure because she did not have a “traditional academic-type background.” As a result, one trustee responsible for reviewing the applications wanted more time to consider her qualifications.

However, faculty members from the university’s Hussman School of Journalism appeared to pre-empt this response by pointing out in an open letter last Wednesday that the last two professors who held Hannah-Jones position were given tenure when appointed. They added that the strength of the school lies in its roster of longtime professionals in the industry. 

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