Leaders at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill said Thursday that the tenure application for New York Times Magazine journalist and The 1619 Project lead author Nikole Hannah-Jones was terminated because she did not come from a “traditional academic-type background.”
The Associated Press reported Thursday that the trustee who heads the subcommittee that oversees tenure applications, Charles Duckett, decided to postpone the review of Hannah-Jones’s tenure submission in January because of her background.
“We’re talking about a lifetime position here, so they’re not entered into lightly,” Richard Stevens, the chairman of the board of trustees for UNC’s Chapel Hill campus, told reporters, according to the AP.
“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.”
Hannah-Jones’s tenure submission never made it to the full board for approval, the AP noted. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist instead welcomed a five-year appointment to the faculty of The Hussman School of Journalism and Media at UNC.
The journalism school announced Hannah-Jones’s hire last month, revealing that the acclaimed New York Times journalist would be joining the university as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism in July.
This is a full-circle moment for me as I return to the place that launched my career to help launch the careers of other aspiring journalists. I’m so excited to continue mentoring students from the classroom and for all I will learn from them. Oh, and I’ll still be at @nytimes. https://t.co/htCpodmTlE
— Ida Bae Wells (@nhannahjones) April 26, 2021
On Wednesday, it was revealed that Hannah-Jones was denied tenure, allegedly after conservative groups complained about her hire at the school because of her work on The 1619 Project, which examines the role slavery played in the U.S. founding.
The project has been criticized by conservatives as being skewed and inaccurate, and some states have sought to ban it from classrooms.
Faculty at the journalism school denounced the reasoning behind the board’s decision not to pursue Hannah-Jones’s tenure application, recognizing that the last two professors who sat in her position were granted tenure when appointed, according to the AP.
Additionally, the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism, which endows Hannah-Jones’ position, called on the university to reconsider its decision, the AP noted.
Stevens and Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, however, said Hannah-Jones could not be considered for tenure again until her five-year contract expires, according to the AP.
The Hill reached out to Hannah-Jones for comment.
In a tweet on Thursday, Hannah-Jones said “this fight is bigger than me, and I will try my best not to let you down.”
I have been overwhelmed by all the support you all have shown me. It has truly fortified my spirit and my resolve. You all know that I will OK. But this fight is bigger than me, and I will try my best not to let you down.
— Ida Bae Wells (@nhannahjones) May 20, 2021
A chorus of journalists decried the university’s decision on Wednesday. MSNBC host Joy Reid called the decision “dead wrong” on Twitter.
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 sounded a similar note, slamming the university’s decision as “absurd,” adding that it is “a reminder of how hard some work to deny the hard truth that is Nikole’s life work & the 1619 Project.”
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
Updated at 10:49 p.m.