UNC Grants Nikole Hannah-Jones Tenure after 1619 Project Backlash

Nikole Hannah-Jones on CBS This Morning in 2019. (Screengrab via YouTube)

The University of North Carolina (UNC) Board of Trustees gathered for a special meeting Wednesday and voted 9–4 to approve the tenure application of Nikole Hannah-Jones, author of the “1619 Project” published by the New York Times.

Some demonstrators congregated inside to watch the meeting, which was supposed to be a closed session, as is standard procedure for a tenure vote. However, this information was reportedly not communicated to the student body, so several people were forcibly removed by police, according to the Daily Tar Heel.

Jones criticized the officers’ conduct with the students in a Twitter statement.

“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,” Hannah-Jones wrote.

A majority vote confirmed Hannah-Jones to be a tenured professor, with trustees Dave Boliek, Haywood Cochrane, Allie Ray McCullen, and John Preyer voting against her candidacy.

“In so (approving the tenure), this board reaffirms that the University puts its highest values first,” Trustee Gene Davis, who voted for Jones’s tenure application, said. The students standing by reportedly erupted into laughter.

The school’s board of trustees first denied Jones’s tenure application in May, citing apprehensions about awarding this designation to someone outside of academia. Without tenure, Hannah-Jones was to join the university’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media as a fixed-term “Professor of the Practice” and as a Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism.

Last week, Hannah-Jones and her legal team submitted a letter to the university stating that she would refuse to join the UNC faculty under a fixed-term employment contracted unless she was granted the “security” of tenure. The document accused a major conservative political donor involved with the school of interfering to kill her tenure application. It also alleged that by denying Jones tenure, the school engaged in discrimination that could warrant a federal lawsuit, citing a number of potential legal violations including “political influence in violation of North Carolina law.”

The 1619 edition of the New York Times magazine, in which Hannah-Jones played a pivotal writing role, has been criticized by many historians as a “very unbalanced, one-sided account” that is “wrong in so many ways.” The project’s objective is to inculcate a revisionist re-framing of American history in students, teaching that slavery is intrinsic to the country’s national fabric.

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