1619 Project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones issued a letter on Tuesday (June 22) to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill stating she will not join its faculty unless she is granted tenure. In the letter, lawyers representing Hannah-Jones claimed political interference resulted in her being denied tenure and moved to assert her decision not to fulfill her role if the decision is not reversed. Initially published and reported by NC Policy Watch, the letter did not name the “powerful donor” with political pull.
“Since signing the fixed-term contract, Ms. Hannah-Jones has come to learn that political interference and influence from a powerful donor contributed to the Board of Trustees’ failure to consider her tenure application,” the letter stated.
It continued: “In light of this information, Ms. Hannah-Jones cannot trust that the University would consider her tenure application in good faith during the period of the fixed-term contract. Such good faith consideration for tenure was understood to be an essential element of the fixed-term contract when Ms. Hannah-Jones agreed to enter into it. In light of the information which has come to her attention since that time, she cannot begin employment with the University without the protection and security of tenure.”
As VIBE previously reported in April, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist was hired to join the Hussman School of Journalism and Media as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism but was unprecedentedly denied tenure. At the time, UNC spokesperson Joanne Peters Denny issued the following statement once the decision to not grant Hannah-Jones tenure became public.
“The details of individual faculty hiring processes are personal protected information. The university is proud to host a Knight Chair at our leading Hussman School of Journalism and Media and looks forward to welcoming Nikole Hannah-Jones to campus.”
In the newly presented letter revealed by the NCPW, members of the board spoke under the conditions of anonymity to confidentially discuss personnel matters. The two unidentified confirmed they have not heard any details of a full vote on the matter.
“But this letter makes it clear she’s not going to begin the job that way and give them what they want on that,” the trustee said to the outlet.
“They want her to take the job under different and lesser conditions than her white predecessors did, and I think continuing to push that is dangerous for the university’s reputation and it’s a bad legal strategy. If we don’t deal with this sooner rather than later we are going to be fighting a legal fight over it while we have Black students and faculty leaving the university in large numbers, which we are already seeing. How do we think we are going to recruit top students and faculty under these conditions?”
Hannah-Jones was initially slated to begin her position on July 1. Although not named in the letter, Walter Hussman—the 1968 UNC alum who made a $25 million pledge before the journalism school was named after him—has vocalized his opposition of her appointment.
According to NPR, Hussman shared his disapproval with several university administrators, the school’s dean, and two members of the UNC-Chapel Hill board of trustees.
“I worry that we’re moving away from those time-tested principles of journalism that we had in the 20th century that were so effective at engendering tremendous trust in the media.”
Hannah-Jones shared a different point of view.
“We are both graduates of that journalism school,” she remarked. “We are both people who’ve been in the newspaper industry for a very long time. And no one person gets to establish the rules of our trade.”