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University of North Carolina Grants Tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones After All

After initially denying tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones, the journalist behind The 1619 Project, the UNC Board of Trustees approved the tenured position.

Trustees for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill voted Wednesday to give tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones, the New York Times Magazine writer behind the 1619 Project, NPR reports.

After the Board of Trustees met for three hours, its Vice Chairman, Gene Davis, said “We welcome Nikole Hannah-Jones back to campus. Our university is not a place to cancel people. Our university is better than that. Our nation is better than that.”

The dean of UNC’s journalism school, Susan King, also spoke about the development. “It has taken longer than I imagined, but I am deeply appreciative that the board has voted in favor of our school’s recommendation,” she wrote. “I knew that when the board reviewed her tenure dossier and realized the strength of her teaching, service and professional vision they would be moved to grant tenure.”

King, along with journalism school faculty and the tenure committee, had given Hannah-Jones enthusiastic support after reviewing the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist’s tenure package. The process had gone smoothly until it reached the Board of Trustees, which reviews and approves tenure applications, media outlet NC Policy Watch reported.

The denial was unusual, as UNC has always approved tenure for Knight Chair professorships, the position for which Hannah-Jones was being considered. A board member said the road block was political.

“This is a very political thing,” the trustee said. “The university and the board of trustees and the Board of Governors and the legislature have all been getting pressure since this thing was first announced last month. There have been people writing letters and making calls, for and against. But I will leave it to you which is carrying more weight,” NC Policy Watch reported in May.

“Conservative groups with direct ties to the Republican-dominated UNC Board of Governors have been highly critical of Hannah-Jones’s work and the idea of her teaching at UNC-Chapel Hill,” the outlet reported.

The 1619 Project, which Hannah-Jones was launched, drew widespread attacks from conservatives, who have taken issue with how The New York Times Magazine initiative centers the role of American slavery in America’s founding.

Hannah-Jones announced she would not accept the offer and would consider suing the university if it failed to give her tenure. The decision to grant her tenure also comes at a time when numerous Black faculty have left or protested Hannah-Jones’s tenure denial, citing concerns about the mistreatment of Black faculty generally.

Hannah-Jones released a statement through the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, writing “Today’s outcome and the actions of the past month are about more than just me. This fight is about ensuring the journalistic and academic freedom of Black writers, researchers, teachers, and students. We must ensure that our work is protected and able to proceed free from the risk of repercussions, and we are not there yet.”