UNC journalism professor comes to defense of Hussman school namesake amid 'Core Values' controversy

Andrea Blanford Image
Thursday, July 15, 2021
UNC journalism professor comes to defense of Hussman, core values
Some faculty say Hussman's values, or the words of any donor, should not be depicted as the values of the school or its faculty.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- A top administrator in the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media is coming to the defense of the school's namesake and that donor's set of core values which have become the latest topic of controversy within the walls of Carroll Hall.

While Walter Hussman, Jr.'s "Statement of Core Values" has been on display in the school's lobby and website since 2019 when the alumnus pledged a $25 million donation to the school that now bears his name, some faculty, in the wake of the Nikole Hannah-Jones tenure debacle, are expressing concern that his values do not align with those of the school.

"I feel like Walter Hussman has been unfairly maligned," said Dr. Charlie Tuggle, Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies. "I don't know him well, but in the times that I've dealt with him, he seemed like a very good man, a very sincere man. He's truly worried about the state of journalism in today's world, as am I. I share those concerns with him."

Hussman's core values emphasize the importance of drawing a clear distinction between news and opinion; the lead sentence reads: "Impartiality means reporting, editing, and delivering the news honestly, fairly, objectively, and without personal opinion or bias."

"Someone please tell me what about the words that are on the wall, do you find problematic?" Tuggle said he asked of his colleagues during a virtual town hall among Hussman faculty and staff on Wednesday.

He said the response he received came down to one word-objectivity, and that no journalist can be truly objective.

"Are we saying that because we can't be perfect at it, we don't even try?" Tuggle said. "We just give it up? That's what I teach my students is, you cannot be unbiased. Your lived experience is your lived experience. And that's going to color everything you do and say. And what you believe. But, try. Please try."

While no vote was taken or resolution passed, Hussman's "Statement of Core Values" was scrubbed from the school's website immediately following the town hall.

Faculty who attended the meeting tell ABC11 that Susan King, Hussman's Dean, is now consulting with lawyers on what to do with Hussman's values that are on display in the lobby that, per the gift agreement, were to eventually be chiseled in granite.

"I am heartened that Dean King has elected to take Walter Hussman Jr.'s "Statement of Core Values" off our school website as they were previously displayed as we discuss how those words should be represented going forward," said Kate Sheppard, Hussman Teaching Assoc. Prof., who helped moderate the discussion.

A donor's role

The subset of faculty pushing for the change said Hussman's values, or the words of any donor, should not be depicted as the values of the school or its faculty; they're specifically criticizing Hussman's actions, saying he leveraged his values as reasons not to give Hannah-Jones tenure.

Hussman, who owns dozens of media outlets, namely newspapers, grabbed headlines himself last month when emails he sent to several university officials surfaced, in which he expressed concern over Hannah-Jones' hire and her work on the The 1619 Project for The New York Times.

Hussman, who has said he did not make any threats of withdrawing his gift contingent on the outcome, also said he now realizes the potential impact of his words as a major donor.

While King recruited Hannah-Jones as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism, the UNC Board of Trustees had delayed a vote on giving her immediate tenure, which it finally did on June 30.

Hannah-Jones ultimately rejected the tenure offer to accept a similar position at Howard University.

Among her reasons, the journalist cited Walter Hussman's public and private comments on the matter, saying she couldn't work for a school bearing his name.

Tuggle, who had not signed on to the handful of statements released by Hussman faculty throughout the months-long Hannah-Jones saga pushing the Board of Trustees to take action and then eventually condemning the process as racist, is now himself criticizing the board for not taking action at its first opportunity.

"The Board of Trustees certainly didn't do us any favors as a school," he said.

However, Tuggle said he does not believe Hussman, as an alumnus of the journalism school, interfered in the process.

"I've kept quiet about this, especially publicly," Tuggle said. "I think it's been bad for the school that we've had such controversy."

While in support of some of his colleagues' requests to contextualize Hussman's values and broaden the school's scope of values to better represent the other fields of study in Public Relations and Advertising, Tuggle is also calling for an end to what he called an appetite for controversy and a return to training up the next generation of journalists.

"I really would like to see it go away," he said. "I don't see it as helpful to our students at all for us to be at war with anybody, whether that's the BOT, or Walter Hussman, or South Building, or whatever."

As for the values and that world view that Tuggle said color everything he does and says, Tuggle was clear:

"Every person has inherent worth, every person -- Nikole Hannah-Jones, Charlie Tuggle, Walter Hussman. We all have inherent worth. And that's what I live my life on -- that yes, you have inherent worth. You. Jesus Christ died for you. And he died for me."