The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill is drawing criticism from journalists following reports the school denied award-winning New York Times Magazine writer Nikole Hannah-Jones, lead author of The 1619 Project, tenure after conservative groups came out against her hire at the school.
In the hours since reports first emerged of the school’s decision not to approve tenure for Hannah-Jones, the school has been met with pushback on social media from growing number of journalist and other members of the press.
MSNBC's Joy Reid called the decision “dead wrong” on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon.
“Universities should not be denying tenure based on right wing sensitivities to the uncomfortable truths of history. That just goes flat out against the supposed goals of a university education,” she wrote.
Universities should not be denying tenure based on right wing sensitivities to the uncomfortable truths of history. That just goes flat out against the supposed goals of a university education. This is just dead wrong. https://t.co/9OdDfJNIwa— Joy-Ann Reid (@JoyAnnReid) May 19, 2021
PBS White House reporter Yamiche Alcindor, who was recently named moderator of “Washington Week,” called the decision “absurd” as well as “a reminder of how hard some work to deny the hard truth that is Nikole's life work & the 1619 Project.”
“She is a Pulitzer Prizer winner & a MacArthur genius. What more needs to be said?” she said, pointing to some of a list of accolades Hannah-Jones has received for her work over the years, the same achievements the campus lauded in a release in April when it announced the hire.
UNC's decision to deny tenure to @nhannahjones is absurd & a reminder of how hard some work to deny the hard truth that is Nikole's life work & the 1619 Project. She is a Pulitzer Prizer winner & a MacArthur genius. What more needs to be said?— Yamiche Alcindor (@Yamiche) May 19, 2021
Other journalists and members of the press also sounded off about the news on Twitter.
This is weak as fuck UNC. Absolutely spineless. But these are the entities that come running to the conversation about how to be good allies. https://t.co/tLuFB68wxf— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) May 19, 2021
Telling the truth about racism always inspires backlash. This absurd decision speaks to the profound power of Nikole’s work. https://t.co/k9yZvNPpQO— John Eligon (@jeligon) May 19, 2021
it's hard to see UNC's decision to deny tenure to Nikole Hannah Jones as anything other than an attack on press freedom -- she is being penalized for producing journalism that powerful people do not like and have worked for years to silence.— Wesley (@WesleyLowery) May 19, 2021
I signed this letter but will go farther -- not granting tenure to @nhannahjones is entirely based on racist, reactionary and anti-academic-freedom ideology at the highest levels. https://t.co/mkftUoj1HJ— Kate Sheppard (@kate_sheppard) May 19, 2021
The UNC decision to deny tenure to Nikole Hannah Jones is obscene. Tenure exists precisely to protect faculty from this kind of politicized decision-making. We need to compare the credentials of people who *did*get tenure this year if a Pulitzer & MacArthur winner did not.— jelani cobb (@jelani9) May 19, 2021
Last month, the school said Hannah-Jones would be joining UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media as its Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism during the summer. The position is typically a tenured role, according to the NC Policy Watch, which was first to report on the news about the school’s decision not to approve tenure for Hannah-Jones.
The report came after conservative groups complained about the school’s hiring of Hannah-Jones for the role shortly after its announcement last month.
At the time, the groups particularly took issue with Hannah-Jones’ involvement with The 1619 Project, which examines the role slavery had in the country’s founding and its history.
The opposition comes as prominent conservatives across the country have targeted Hannah-Jones over the work, with a number of GOP lawmakers even introducing legislation in states to bar schools from including the project in instruction.
Hours after reports first surfaced of the school’s decision, over 30 members of the Hussman School of Journalism and Media’s faculty signed onto a statement calling on school leadership to tenure Hannah-Jones.
“Failure to tenure Nikole Hannah-Jones in her role as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism is a concerning departure from UNC’s traditional process and breaks precedent with previous tenured full professor appointments of Knight chairs in our school,” the statement read.
“This failure is especially disheartening because it occurred despite the support for Hannah-Jones’s appointment as a full professor with tenure by the Hussman Dean, Hussman faculty, and university,” the statement continued. “Hannah-Jones’s distinguished record of more than 20 years in journalism surpasses expectations for a tenured position as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism.”
“We call on the university’s leadership to reaffirm its commitment to the university, its faculty and time-honored norms and procedures, and its endorsed values of diversity, equity, and inclusion,” they added. “The university must tenure Nikole Hannah-Jones as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism.”