UNC Denies Tenure for ‘1619 Project’ Creator Nikole Hannah-Jones
Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images

Nikole Hannah-Jones, the architect of The 1619 Project, has lost her alma mater’s offer for tenure and is instead under consideration for a fixed five-year contract as a professor of practice.

NC Policy Watch reported on the change Wednesday amid a wave of conservative criticism of her work. 

Hannah-Jones was recruited for the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism which, at the UNC-Chapel Hill campus, is typically a tenured position. In layman’s terms, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author would have a guaranteed position with the role. However, the former UNC student was offered by the university a non-tenured professorship after going through an extensive approval process.

While Hannah-Jones has yet to make a comment about the appointment news, Susan King, dean of the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, reportedly called the decision “disappointing” and said she was afraid it would create a “chilling effect.” She added: “I don’t want to get into a food fight. I want to make sure that our students have the opportunity to have someone of her caliber here and to learn from her. I think our faculty do as well. I realize this is a fraught era in the state. When I heard that the chancellor and the provost wanted to move to this, it was better than having a battle royale about the theory of academic freedom.

Conservative groups have placed The 1619 Project under intense scrutiny, including former President Donald Trump, who announced last September the creation of the “1776 Commission,” meant to promote a “patriotic education,” while blasting efforts by Hannah-Jones and others to reexamine American history.

Critics such as Sean Wilentz have called out the MacArthur Fellowship “Genius Grant” recipient’s published piece as “a scrupulous regard for factual accuracy,” while former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich called it “brainwash.” Some states across the U.S. have also sought to ban it outright from classrooms.

Once the news regarding Hannah-Jones tenureship spread, 24 faculty members of Hussman School of Journalism and Media faculty signed a public statement asking the school to change its decision. “We call on the university’s leadership to reaffirm its commitment to the university, its faculty and time-honored norms and procedures, and its endorsed values of diversity, equity, and inclusion,” the statement read. “The university must tenure Nikole Hannah-Jones as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism.”

Jelani Cobb, a prominent New Yorker staff writer, thought leader, and Columbia University Journalism School professor, weighed in on Twitter, writing, “The UNC decision to deny tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones is obscene. Tenure exists precisely to protect faculty from this kind of politicized decision-making. We need to compare the credentials of people who did get tenure this year if a Pulitzer [and] MacArthur winner did not.”

Below, here’s what is being said around the way: