Story at a glance

  • Pulitzer Prize winner and UNC graduate Nikole Hannah-Jones was hired by the university as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism in April, reportedly a tenured position.
  • The Board of Trustees did not grant Hannah-Jones tenure as it had for previous hires in the position, generating backlash.
  • Hannah-Jones sent a letter to state lawmakers requesting the preservation of evidence, suggesting a potential lawsuit against the university.

The University of North Carolina is reportedly reconsidering its decision not to grant Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones tenure after a letter to state lawmakers revealed that she was considering legal action against the school. 

“I had no desire to bring turmoil or a political firestorm to the university that I love, but I am obligated to fight back against a wave of anti-democratic suppression that seeks to prohibit the free exchange of ideas, silence Black voices and chill free speech," said Hannah-Jones in a statement to The News & Observer, which obtained a copy of the letter, authored by attorneys from the NAACP Legal Defense and several other legal firms.


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In April, the university announced Hannah-Jones would join her alma mater as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism. Despite granting tenure to previous appointees to the position, the board of trustees broke precedent and chose not to do so for Hannah-Jones. Hannah-Jones’s candidacy for tenure has been resubmitted to the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees, reported NC Policy Watch, which first broke the story, this week. 

The decision, which an unnamed Board of Trustees member told NC Policy Watch was due to "politics," received backlash from many, including 1,619 UNC alumni and students, a nod to the award-winning and controversial 1619 Project, who placed a two-page ad in The News & Observer calling for Hannah-Jones to receive tenure. Critics noted that of the 622 tenured full professors at UNC in 2019, federal data shows that just eight were Black women.


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"I am grateful for and overwhelmed by everyone who signed this letter and the N&O ad," Hannah-Jones said in a tweet responding to an open letter published by The Root. "This fight is not about me: 'We call on all people of conscience to decry this growing wave of repression and to encourage a recommitment to the free exchange of ideas.'"


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Published on May 28, 2021