Dean Susan King, left, and Walter Hussman, Jr. Photo courtesy of UNC-Chapel Hill

UNC-Chapel Hill journalism school mega-donor Walter Hussman, Jr. is hitting the media circuit this week.

In interviews with N.C. Policy Watch, WRAL, ABC 11, The News & Observer, and others, Hussman is pushing back on last weekend’s reporting from The Assembly that suggests that Hussman’s emails to UNC administrators may have influenced the university’s hiring of Nikole Hannah-Jones as Knight Chair of Race and Investigative Journalism at the journalism school that now bears Hussman’s name. 

Hussman also spoke to John Drescher, who broke the news of the emails in The Assembly, according to a newsletter writeup that the digital magazine sent out to its readers today. 

“I spoke with Susan King yesterday,” Hussman reportedly wrote in an email to Drescher Wednesday evening, “and told her I was a bit dismayed that the impression from your article was that I had pressured her not to hire Nikole Hannah-Jones. She confirmed to me that I had not pressured her. She said she was concerned that I was sharing my concerns with her and a few others. I reaffirmed that it was a unilateral conveyance of my concerns and I did not expect any response from any one to whom I sent those emails.”

In a statement to The Assembly today, the newsletter states, King—a person who likely sends emails to which she expects to receive responses—disputed Hussman’s characterization of these happenings and says she does actually think Hussman was trying to influence her decision. 

“I felt worried enough about Walter’s repeated questions challenging our hiring of Nikole Hannah-Jones as Knight Chair and his subsequent call to at least one other donor that I asked for help from others in the administration at the university,” King wrote. “I wasn’t clear who else he was calling and I was worried he was trying to influence the outcome.

“I was clear with Walter throughout the process about my worries and that his involvement might be seen as trying to influence the board, the last stop on the tenure process. I was explicit with him about donors’ role in academic affairs and Walter said he understood.”

King has the stronger case, as previously unreported portions of the emails obtained by The Assembly reveal.

From the newsletter:

UNC-Chapel Hill’s Board of Trustees has until tomorrow to reconsider awarding tenure to Hannah-Jones or otherwise faces a federal lawsuit. 

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