WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Weeks of tension over the hiring of investigative journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will now come down to a decision from the school’s board of trustees on whether to offer her tenure.
The trustees planned a special meeting Wednesday at which they are expected to vote on whether to offer tenure to Hannah-Jones, key architect of The 1619 Project for The New York Times Magazine that explored the bitter legacy of racism.
The university had announced in April that Hannah-Jones, who won the Pulitzer Prize for her work on the project, would be joining the faculty in July. She had accepted a five-year contract to join the journalism school’s faculty as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism.
Earlier in the year, Hannah-Jones’ tenure application was halted because she didn’t come from a “traditional academic-type background,” and a trustee who vets the lifetime appointments wanted more time to consider her qualifications, university leaders had said.
The school has said little about why tenure wasn’t offered, but a prominent donor revealed that he had emailed university leaders challenging her work as “highly contentious and highly controversial” before the process was halted.
Some conservatives have complained about The 1619 Project, which focused on the country’s history of slavery.
Monday’s announcement of the scheduled meeting said only that the board would go into closed session. Board chairman Richard Stevens declined comment through the school on the specific nature of the meeting. But the group NC Policy Watch cited unidentified sources as saying the board would vote on whether to grant Hannah-Jones’ application for tenure at the UNC school of journalism and media.
The meeting comes a day before Hannah-Jones was to start at the journalism school. Her attorneys announced last week that she would not report for work without tenure.
Last week, UNC Student Body President Lamar Richards, who’s also a trustee, requested that the board convene a special meeting no later than Wednesday to vote on tenure for Hannah-Jones. Six board members must agree to a request for a special meeting to take place, according to Richards.
The decision by trustees earlier this year to halt Hannah-Jones’ tenure submission sparked a torrent of criticism from within the community. It ultimately revealed a depth of frustration over the school’s failure to answer longstanding concerns about the treatment of Black faculty, staff and students.
Several hundred UNC students gathered near the chancellor’s office last Friday to demand that trustees reconsider tenure for Hannah-Jones.