UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz has finally spoken about the news that, despite university tradition, acclaimed journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones was not offered tenure when she was selected as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism.
“I support the academic freedom of our faculty,” Guskiewicz told media members on Thursday. “I also respect the role that our Board of Trustees plays in our model of shared governance.”
The decision to not extend tenure to the creator of The 1619 Project breaks with the tradition of the Knight Chair position at UNC-Chapel Hill, although Board of Trustees Chair Richard Stevens pointed out that one-third of UNC faculty are not tenured. Stevens stated multiple times that there was not a vote, or denial of tenure—it was never offered in the first place, despite journalism school faculty recommending her for it.
“The Chancellor and Provost never presented any recommendation to us,” Stevens says. “We took no action with the board. It is my understanding that Dean Susan King elected to pursue a fixed term with her. It did not come back, to the University Affairs Committee, as none of them ever do. Nikole Hannah-Jones agreed to a fixed-term faculty position.”
Stevens said that Trustee Chuck Duckett, the head of the University Affairs committee that votes on tenured faculty, presented questions in January to outgoing Provost Bob Blouin about the application for Hannah-Jones, and recommended more time be given to consider the appointment. She was then presented a contract without tenure by the journalism school and accepted the position.
The decision to not offer Hannah-Jones tenure comes as North Carolina Republicans decry The 1619 Project. Groups with ties to UNC Board of Governors members were livid about the appointment, and the N.C. General Assembly has considered tighter restrictions that would prevent teachers from talking about the country’s history of racism.
The explanation from Guskiewicz and Stevens is at odds with earlier statements from King made about the issue. Hussman faculty have also written a statement, saying they were “stunned” by the news.
“When her case was presented, the Board of Trustees did not act on tenure, and she was offered a five-year fixed-term contract by the university,” King told Hussman faculty. “The Board of Trustees has the authority to approve all tenured (lifetime) appointments. I was told the board was worried about a non-academic entering the university with this designation.”
The INDY is awaiting a comment from King on the matter.
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