University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill trustees have voted to approve tenure for New York Times Magazine journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones after reports she was previously denied it.
NPR reported that the trustees voted on Wednesday to approve tenure for Hannah-Jones, who had been tapped by the school recently to serve as its Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism. The position is usually a tenured role.
Hannah-Jones said in a statement later Wednesday that such a vote would not have occurred without the support from students, faculty and colleagues.
“Today’s outcome and the actions of the past month are about more than just me. This fight is about ensuring the journalistic and academic freedom of Black writers, researchers, teachers, and students. We must ensure that our work is protected and able to proceed free from the risk of repercussions, and we are not there yet. These last weeks have been very challenging and difficult and I need to take some time to process all that has occurred and determine what is the best way forward,” she said.
When news broke initially that the school had denied tenure to Hannah-Jones, some reports linked the move to complaints from conservative groups about her involvement in the creation of The Times’ 1619 Project, which explores the role slavery had in the country’s founding and its history.
Among those who pushed back against Hannah-Jones receiving tenure was Walter Hussman, a donor to the school, according to NPR. The outlet reported that Hussman had issues with certain arguments made in the 1619 Project and expressed concerns to administrators, as well as one trustee.
However, school leaders later claimed, amid a fierce backlash to the denial, that Hannah-Jones’s tenure application was terminated because she didn’t come from a “traditional academic-type background.”
“We’re talking about a lifetime position here, so they’re not entered into lightly,” Richard Stevens, who chairs the board of trustees at the Chapel Hill campus, told reporters last month.
“And it’s not unusual for a member of the board, or in particular the chair of the committee, to have questions for clarification about background, particularly candidates that don’t come from a traditional academic-type background,” he added. “In this case, Chair Duckett asked for a little bit of time to be able to do that.”
According to NPR, there were multiple professors to serve in the position Hannah-Jones, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and UNC graduate, was hired to fill that also did not obtain doctorates.
As the school faced a wave of backlash over the decision to deny Hannah-Jones tenure, the journalist’s legal team said she would not join the school’s faculty if she was not granted tenure.
At the time, her lawyers also referenced a “powerful donor” whose influence they said “contributed to the Board of Trustees’ failure to consider her tenure application.”
The controversy has fueled criticism from journalists and academics who said the move to deny Hannah-Jones amounted to overreach and was unfair.
As trustees met to vote in a closed-door meeting at the school's campus on Wednesday, video shows some appearing to demonstrate outside the room.
About 2 hours ago now, with @TaliajahV @jc_1303 @unc_bsm in support of @nhannahjones We were standing peacefully, when 4 officers forcefully removed us. Pushing, shoving and slapping. We protect us. pic.twitter.com/uUGq9IdtDc— annabelle (she/her) (@annabellef17) June 30, 2021
Hannah-Jones addressed a picture circulating on social media Wednesday afternoon that showed some being apprehended by police amid the meeting.
She said the school have “communicated how this meeting would go,” noting that “tenure proceedings are always held in closed session, and an attempt made to de-escalate.”
“Instead Black students were shoved and punched because they were confused about the process. This is not right,” she said.
It should have been communicated how this meeting would go, that tenure proceedings are always held in closed session, and an attempt made to de-escalate. Instead Black students were shoved and punched because they were confused about the process. This is not right. https://t.co/37UPjWpDOR— Ida Bae Wells (@nhannahjones) June 30, 2021
Updated 9:45 p.m.