UNC Chapel Hill to Hold Special Tenure-Vote for Nikole Hannah-Jones

By Joshua Adams Jun 29, 2021

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was published before Nikole Hannah-Jones was granted tenure on Wednesday, June 30. 

According to NC Policy Watch, the trustees of UNC Chapel Hill will hold a special tenure-vote meeting for Nikole Hannah-Jones this Wednesday. The journalist seemingly confirmed the reporting, tweeting “Some news.”

Back in May, news broke that the award-winning journalist was denied tenure. Many critics argued that the Board of Trustees was responding to political pressure from conservatives who have attacked The 1619 Project in the New York Times that Hannah-Jones headed and are including the journalist’s work in the current panic over critical race theory. The trustees have mostly chosen to speak only anonymously, but the Associated Press reported that a trustee said Hannah-Jones did not have a “traditional academic-type background.”

When the controversy arose, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education released a statement, saying that when “decisions on academic tenure incorporate a form of political litmus test, this freedom is gravely compromised.” At Colorlines, we wrote about how denying Hannah-Jones would set a dangerous precedent—particularly since she has more accolades as an individual journalist than entire journalism departments at most colleges and universities. 

According to Inside Higher Ed, "Hannah-Jones’ legal team disclosed last week that she’d been offered a UNC faculty job with the promise of tenure and a scheduled start date in January of this year, only to see the board decline to vote on her tenure case twice. She accepted a non-tenure-track job in February before she understood why the board acted as it did." 

Though the board’s rationale behind calling this meeting hasn’t been fully reported, Chapel Hill’s student body president and an ex-officio trustee, Lamar Richards, petitioned the board last week. Trustees are likely receiving political pressure from different sides arguing to accept or deny Hannah-Jones’ tenure. Wednesday also marks the day before the current six trustees will cycle off the board and a new group will replace them. 

Hannah-Jones has mostly kept quiet about the whole ordeal, speaking more indirectly through retweets of news articles and reporting about developments. In a letter to the university, her legal team stated that Hannah-Jones would not join the faculty without tenure.