‘1619 Project’ writer considering lawsuit to force tenure appointment

In this May 21, 2016, file photo, Nikole Hannah-Jones attends the 75th Annual Peabody Awards Ceremony at Cipriani Wall Street in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

RALEIGH – Nikole Hannah-Jones, the writer behind the controversial ‘1619 Project’ and a recent hire at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s journalism school, is said to be considering a lawsuit against UNC-CH and the Board of Trustees.

The Raleigh News & Observer reported the details Thursday afternoon, with a statement from Hannah-Jones, saying she retained legal counsel to “ensure the academic and journalistic freedom of black writers is protected to the full extent of the law and to seek redress for the University of North Carolina’s adverse actions against me,” in an emailed statement.

The Knight Foundation, which funds the role at the university, said in a May 21 statement that the position began as a professorship in 1984 to teach advertising and subsequently converted to the Knight Chair in Digital Advertising and Marketing, and then to the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Reporting. The statement said it was the university’s idea to change the area of focus and hire Hannah-Jones.

Some media outlets have reported that tenure for the position was denied or revoked, however, the offer of tenure is a decision made by the UNC-CH Board of Trustees – not the journalism school.

Charles Duckett, a member of the board of trustees, confirmed to The Associated Press that a resubmitted offer with tenure has been sent. He said he received the resubmission Tuesday from the university’s Appointments, Personnel and Tenure Committee, which is made up of tenured professors.

The new offer could be voted on in late June or July, after Hannah-Jones is set to start her job as the Knight Chair for Race and Investigative Journalism at UNC-CH.

On Monday, faculty and student leaders at the university demanded that trustees officially reconsider tenure for Hannah-Jones. A letter signed by various professional athletes, writers and academics assailed the university, saying the trustees “failed to uphold the first order values of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas.”