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NABJ Statement on UNC Tenure Status of Nikole Hannah-Jones

The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) anxiously awaits an update today from the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill and its Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz regarding the status of new Hussman School of Media and Journalism Knight Chair Nikole Hannah-Jones.

Last month, NABJ was thrilled to learn that Hannah-Jones, the 2015 NABJ Journalist of the Year, was named the UNC Hussman School of Media and Journalism Knight Chair, a historically tenured position. The NABJ family has always been proud of her work and impact across the industry and we have been hopeful about the positive influence she will have at the university in producing the next generation of students, as she is a celebrated and respected Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist. She is slated to begin her role in July.

However, yesterday, our organization was disappointed to discover that despite the approval from the university’s faculty and tenure committee, the university’s board of trustees decided to deny Hannah-Jones of the distinguished honor and tradition.

According to the New York Times, speculations have been reported that “her hiring brought a backlash from conservatives concerned about her involvement in The Times Magazine’s 1619 Project, which examined the legacy of slavery in America.” The 1619 Project is a long-form journalism project led and developed by Hannah-Jones along with other writers from The New York Times and The New York Times Magazine.

“NABJ has reached out to the university to determine their reason for failing to grant tenure to Nikole,” said NABJ President Dorothy Tucker. “If the speculations are true, then we denounce any decision to deny a distinguished journalist tenure because she simply did her job by reporting facts about slavery in America. The university would be sending a message to its students that it does not support press freedom and that seeking the truth and reporting it is not a pillar it believes should be a part of our profession, and that the work of Black journalists, or any journalist, to expose the ills of slavery and its impact on America is unmerited.”

The denial of Hannah-Jones tenure has been reported to be “highly unusual” as it is rare that the university’s journalism department’s recommendations are not accepted. Multiple faculty members have protested and signed a petition, citing that at least two people before Hannah-Jones were granted tenure. 

According to news reports, the university has not denied or confirmed these claims, as the Times reported that “A spokeswoman for the university, Joanne Peters Denny, said in a statement that ‘details of individual faculty hiring processes are personnel protected information.” NABJ has reached out to the university to request an explanation for the decision and to find out if and when Hannah-Jones will be granted tenure.

NABJ Academic Representative Jarrad Henderson said, “The failure to offer Hannah-Jones tenure with her appointment as a Knight Chair is the latest in the history of unfair treatment of Black women in academia, who are often denied promotion despite exceptional work. It also further discourages all journalists of color who are hoping to transition into the academy for the benefit of the institutions we believe in. The board of trustees’ decision to not take action on approving Hannah-Jones’s tenure, is a step backward for academia. We stand with UNC Faculty, and 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.'”

If issues of race or attempts to muffle the freedom of the press are at the core of this decision, NABJ will stand strongly against it and work to hold the university accountable.

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