CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) — Several hundred people attended a demonstration at UNC-Chapel Hill Friday to demand the university grant tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones.
“We believe that Nikole Hannah-Jones deserves to be a tenured professor here. We believe our Black student body deserves to have access to an amazing professor like her,” said Taliajah “Teddy” Vann, president of the Black Student Movement, which organized the peaceful demonstration.
Hannah Jones is a UNC-Chapel Hill alumnae, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and the creator of the 1619 Project on slavery. She accepted a position to teach on campus this fall, but the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees postponed her tenure based on what they consider a lack of merit.
Hannah-Jones, who had accepted a five-year appointment to teach at the UNC school of journalism, said Tuesday that she won’t take the job without tenure.
“I think the perfect word to describe what has happened here is ‘exploitation’,” said Vann. “You all saying we want Nikole Hannah-Jones to be here, we want to offer her a Knight Chair Professorship, but we don’t want to give her the tenure that everyone else has gotten.”
Vann believes the tenure issue scratches the surface of a much larger issue on campus. The Black Student Movement presented a list of demands to university chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz that they say uplift and help Black students and faculty.
“We demand more diversity on the Board of Trustees,” Vann told the crowd.
Deborah Stroman is a professor at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health. Stroman tells CBS17 she attended the demonstration to support students.
“I am really, really disappointed at all levels,” she said. “I just think we are not living up to our principals as a university and especially a no-brainer like a Nikole Hannah-Jones.”
Some believe this will ultimately cost UNC students and faculty of color. Stroman says several of her close colleagues have already decided to leave.
But she believes we likely won’t see the impact until later.
“Because there is so much of a storm around UNC-Chapel Hill, and people know the talent here, people are now being recruited,” she said. “So, they’ll say ‘I’ll finish up the term,’ and maybe I’ll leave in January. Or ‘maybe I’ll finish up the academic year’ and then leave next year. So this is something that is really going to hurt our university.”
CBS 17 reached out to UNC officials regarding this story.
In a statement, UNC-Chapel Hill’s Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Amy Johnson said:
“I was glad to support our students and colleagues at the rally today and I am grateful to our BSM students for the leadership and dedication they continue to demonstrate. We have a lot of work to do to overcome a long history of racism, oppression and silence. I am committed to working with our students to make Carolina better—and a more inclusive and welcoming community for all.”
— The Associated Press contributed to this report