Nikole Hannah-Jones considers legal action against UNC over tenure dispute

Orange County News

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN/AP) — Pulitzer Prize-winning author and New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones is now considering legal action against the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill after her tenure application was halted.

Hannah-Jones was originally offered a position as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at UNC, the school announced last month.

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, the offer of the tenured teaching position at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media to Hannah-Jones was resubmitted to the UNC Board of Trustees after university faculty, students and others demanded the Board to take a vote on the tenure package.

Despite support from many parties, Hannah-Jones is mulling legal action against the school, including “possibly initiating a federal action against UNC, the Board, and/or affiliated entities and individuals,” a letter to state lawmakers reads.

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.

King spoke out days later, calling Hannah-Jones a “once-in-a-lifetime journalist whose investigative methods and reporting define a career and a time.” King went on to say that Hannah-Jones will be a “remarkable asset” to students and the school as a whole.

Protesters, many of them faculty members, gathered last week at a board of trustees meeting with signs in protest of the decision.

A letter produced by UNC students appeared in Indy Week on May 20, with advocates of Hannah-Jones expressing frustration and disappointment in the university that a decision as such would be made.

“The flagship institution of the UNC System, has failed not only you, an outstanding alumna, but its students, its faculty, its community as a whole—and yes, the spirit upon which Carolina was founded: Lux Libertas—light and liberty,” the letter reads in part.

Student advocates went on to say that they believed they would “benefit immensely” from the opportunity to learn from Hannah-Jones.

A number of professors at various universities across the country responded to King’s comments with admiration for how some faculty members are standing up to the university’s administration.

Hannah-Jones won the Pulitzer Prize for her work on The New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project, which focused on the U.S. history of slavery. 

The project reframes America’s history by focusing on the consequences of slavery and contributions of Black Americans, and at the same time announcing the creation of a new “1776 commission” to reinstate “patriotism” in American schools.

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