Faculty members of a North Carolina university want an explanation for the school's reported decision to back away from offering a tenured teaching position to journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, whose work on the country's history of slavery has drawn the ire of conservatives.
Hannah-Jones was offered a position as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the school announced last month. Hannah-Jones is an investigative journalist who won the Pulitzer Prize for her work on “The 1619 Project” for The New York Times Magazine.
But the school changed its offer from a tenured position to a five-year term as a professor with an option for review at the end of that time, as first reported by NC Policy Watch on Wednesday.
In a statement issued in response to the story, faculty members of the university's school of journalism and media said the decision was especially concerning given that Hannah-Jones had the full support of the journalism school's dean, Susan King. They said the decision also violated established tenure and promotion procedures at UNC-Chapel Hill.
"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," the statement said. "The university must tenure Nikole Hannah-Jones as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism."
King said in a statement on Wednesday that the journalism school is delighted to have Hannah-Jones join the school in the fall despite the change.
"While I am disappointed that the appointment is without tenure, there is no doubt in anyone's mind that she will be a star faculty member," King's statement said. "I am more than delighted that she will be here at UNC, teaching our next generation of journalists, working with our graduate students, and sharing her perspective with us all. I can only imagine how our students will benefit from her wisdom and experience."
University spokesperson Joanne Peters Denny declined to comment on the situation, saying faculty hiring processes are personnel-protected information. But she added that the school looks forward to welcoming Hannah-Jones to campus.
“The 1619 Project” is an initiative of The New York Times Magazine that began in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. The magazine describes the project as one which is designed to reframe the country's history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans "at the very center of our national narrative."
The project was converted into a popular podcast. Materials were developed for schools to use and The Pulitzer Center partnered with the Times to develop 1619 Project lesson plans. However, objections to “The 1619 Project” have morphed into legislative efforts to prevent its presentation in public schools.
In February, an Arkansas House panel rejected legislation that would have banned schools from teaching the project. The measure failed on a voice vote on the same day the state Senate rejected a resolution that cited the country's "ongoing positive record on race and slavery" and attacked Democrats' history on civil rights issues.
Former President Donald Trump created a commission in response to “The 1619 Project” that promoted "patriotic" education and played down America's role in slavery. After taking office, President Joe Biden revoked a report from the so-called 1776 Commission. Widely mocked by historians, the commission glorified the country's white founders and played down the role of slavery.