UNC Board of Trustees votes 9-4 to approve tenure for Nikole Hannah-Jones

ByTom Foreman Jr., Associated Press, WTVD-AP
Thursday, July 1, 2021
UNC Board of Trustees votes to approve tenure for Hannah-Jones
Trustees at UNC-Chapel Hill voted 9-4 to approve tenure for investigative journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Trustees at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill voted 9-4 to approve tenure for investigative journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones.

The board of trustees met Wednesday but then went into closed session. Vice-Chair board member, Gene Davis, said Hannah-Jones was alerted of tenure prior to the public announcement.

When asked if she would start Thursday, Davis responded saying, "I hope."

Hannah-Jones released a statement through her legal team writing:

"I want to acknowledge the tremendous outpouring of support I have received from students, faculty, colleagues, and the general public over the last month - including the young people who showed up today at the Board of Trustees meeting, putting themselves at physical risk. I am honored and grateful for and inspired by you all. I know that this vote would not have occurred without you.

"Today's outcome and the actions of the past month are about more than just me. This fight is about ensuring the journalistic and academic freedom of Black writers, researchers, teachers, and students. We must ensure that our work is protected and able to proceed free from the risk of repercussions, and we are not there yet. These last weeks have been very challenging and difficult and I need to take some time to process all that has occurred and determine what is the best way forward."

WATCH: Board of Trustees approve tenure for Nikole Hannah-Jones

Trustees at the flagship school of North Carolina's public university system voted 9-4 to approve tenure for investigative journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones.

"It has taken longer than I imagined, but I am deeply appreciative that the board has voted in favor of our school's recommendation to tenure," Susan King, the journalism school's dean, said in part. "She is a journalist's journalist, a teacher's teacher and a woman of substance with a voice of consequence. Hannah-Jones will make our school better with her presence."

Before the meeting, things got tense when some demonstrators refused to leave. Extra security was called to escort them out. Some of them chanted to abolish the board of trustees.

When demonstrators were allowed back in, it was announced that the majority voted for and granted tenure.

"Let the chips fall where they may," Hannah-Jones said on Twitter early Wednesday morning.

Hannah-Jones is the key architect of the controversial 1619 Project for The New York Times Magazine that explored the bitter legacy of racism but critics say is an inaccurate revision of the nation's history.

WATCH: Sen. Thom Tillis co-sponsors bill to defund K-12 schools teaching '1619 Project'

Senator Thom Tillis co-sponsored a bill that would prohibit federal funds from being used to teach the 1619 Project in K-12 schools.

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 -- without a guarantee of tenure.

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.

WATCH: UNC Mega-donor emailed chancellor expressing concern over giving Nikole Hannah-Jones tenure

"I worry about the controversy of tying the UNC journalism school to the 1619 Project," Hussman wrote in an email last December.

Some conservatives have complained about The 1619 Project, which focused on the country's history of slavery.

The meeting came a day before Hannah-Jones was to start at the journalism school. Her attorneys announced last week that she had done an about-face and 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.

WATCH: UNC student president tells future Tar Heels to 'look elsewhere' due to Hannah-Jones tenure fight

The student body president at UNC Chapel Hill slammed his own university, telling some prospective students to "look elsewhere."

The tenure flap sparked a torrent of criticism from within the segments of the university community.

Several hundred UNC students gathered near the chancellor's office last Friday to demand that trustees reconsider tenure for Hannah-Jones.

"Trust has been broken."

Over the past six weeks, it's been a non-stop drumbeat of protest in Chapel Hill from students and faculty outraged by the initial decision to withhold tenure from Jones. Some Black academics abandoned plans to join UNC, in protest. Longtime UNC faculty like Dr. Deborah Stroman reacted to Wednesday's news with mixed emotions.

"Happiness and joy because something that has been bothering us for a long period of time, we got a decision," Stroman told ABC 11. "To have someone of the stature of a Nikole Hannah-Jones to be treated this way, when again she is qualified but also when every prior person in this position was offered the tenure... I am disappointed. I'm concerned. I'm concerned about where do we go from here."

Stroman called this six-week-long episode "frustrating" and "embarrassing." She said Black and Brown faculty and students at UNC are "grieving" that they were taken through this.

"Because trust has been broken," Stroman said. "Trust has been broken and where do we see in the entire process that things will be different."