Letter: Hannah-Jones won’t join UNC-CH faculty without tenure

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 — Investigative journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones has told the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in a letter that she will not join the faculty at its journalism school without tenure, a report said late Tuesday.

The letter says Hannah-Jones will not begin her position as Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism as scheduled July 1 at the Hussman School of Journalism and Mediad. The letter was sent to school officials by Hannah-Jones’ legal team.

“Since signing the fixed-term contract, Ms. Hannah-Jones has come to learn that political interference and influence from a powerful donor contributed to the Board of Trustees’ failure to consider her tenure application,” the letter said. “In light of this information, Ms. Hannah-Jones cannot trust that the University would consider her tenure application in good faith during the period of the fixed-term contract.”

UNC spokesman Joel Curran acknowledged that the school had been contacted by the attorneys for Hannah-Jones, but didn’t respond specifically to the letter.

“While this remains a confidential personnel matter, as Chancellor (Kevin) Guskiewicz has said publicly, we feel she will add great value to the Carolina campus,” Curran said.

Hannah-Jones, who started the controversial “1619 Project” for the New York Times Magazine, had accepted a five-year contract to join the journalism school’s faculty as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism.

The trustee who leads the subcommittee that considers tenure applications, Charles Duckett, chose in January to postpone the review of Hannah-Jones’ submission, said Richard Stevens, the chairman of the board of trustees for the Chapel Hill campus. It was never brought before the full board for approval, and instead the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist accepted a five-year appointment to the faculty of the journalism school.

School leaders said Hannah-Jones could be considered again for tenure before the end of her five-year contract.

In addition, Walter Hussman Jr., publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, said in emails to university leaders that he was concerned about whether Hannah-Jones’ presence at the journalism school would distract from its core values, according to an article in The Assembly. In 2019, Hussman pledged $25 million to the UNC journalism school.

Members of the journalism school faculty sought an explanation as to why tenure was not offered to Hannan-Jones. A letter signed by various professional athletes, writers and academics last month assailed the university, saying the trustees “failed to uphold the first order values of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas.”