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Sunday October 2nd

Commission discusses campus building names, Nikole Hannah-Jones tenure case

Screenshot from the History, Race and Way forward meeting on May 24, 2021.
Buy Photos Screenshot from the History, Race and Way forward meeting on May 24, 2021.

The Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward met Monday to discuss campus building renaming, the UNC Board of Trustees' decision to not take action on approving Nikole Hannah-Jones’ tenure and projects regarding the Barbee-Hargraves Cemetery.

What’s new?

  • The commission discussed recommendations to Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz on the removal of building names with racist ties. 
    • Members voted individually on recommending the names of nine campus buildings, including Battle Hall, Bingham Hall, Graham Residence Hall, Grimes Residence Hall, Hamilton Hall, Morrison Residence Hall, Pettigrew Hall, Ruffin Residence Hall and Vance Hall.
    • Four principles guided the commission’s decision regarding the name changes:
      • The figures whose documented lives and careers were not merely “men of their times.”
      • The fact that previously “conventional” ideas and actions held by those individuals do not absolve them of their actions and responsibilities.
      • The buildings listed are not benign memorials.
      • Removing a name from a building does not erase history.
    • These points were sent to Guskiewicz, who is in the process of assembling a special committee called for in the Board of Trustees' policy on name removal.
    • Members of the commission approved this recommendation by unanimous vote on April 13. 
  • The commission then discussed the Board of Trustees' decision not to take action on approving Nikole Hannah-Jones' tenure. 
    • Jim Leloudis, a chairperson of the commission, said it was important to address the issue because of its clear connection to race.
      • “It’s clearly connected to the criticism of the 1619 Project, and to the work of historical truth telling,” he said. “I think it’s fair to say that, in effect, the trustees, by their actions — their inaction — have recruited this University to the ongoing project of historical denialism concerning the centrality of race and racism.”
    • Patricia Parker, the commission's other chairperson, said every tenure case starts with a departmental subcommittee and is eventually reviewed by a promotion and tenure committee. Parker said the last step is to have those recommendations go to the Board of Trustees.
      • “This is where denial is absolutely there,” she said. “Someone denied the inclusion of that last step and, in effect, that denied the tenure of Nikole Hannah-Jones, along with her appointment.”
    • Leloudis said there is a lack of transparency regarding whether Hannah-Jones’ tenure was withdrawn or tabled.
    • Danita Mason-Hogans, project coordinator of critical oral histories at Duke University's Center for Documentary Studies, asked if it would be probable to call upon Guskiewicz and Provost Bob Blouin to call an emergency meeting with the Board of Trustees as a call to action.
    • Leloudis said the chancellor does not have the power to convene the trustees, as the trustees control their own meeting agenda and calendar.
      • “They have, really, unlimited authority to do what they did,” he said. 
    • Dawna Jones, assistant dean of students, requested that, in addition to a review for tenure, the commission also seek transparency about the Board’s actions and inactions.
      • “The call is coming from inside the house here, and yet we’re all finding out information on the news and through other sources,” Jones said. “To my knowledge, we have not had any information come to the University or to the surrounding community directly from our leadership to at least know where they are in this whole process, so there’s a lot of guessing.”
    • Jones said many people do not understand the processes involved with the Board of Trustees.
      • “If we don’t do a better job of informing all of our stakeholders about what these processes look like, we have no mechanism to break them down,” she said.
  • The commission then discussed updates on the Barbee Cemetery Project. 
    • The commission is collaborating with the Kenan-Flagler Business School to honor the enslaved people buried at Barbee-Hargraves Cemetery at the Rizzo Center in Meadowmont.
    • Seth Kotch, an associate professor in the Department of American Studies and director of the Southern oral history program, said they will soon begin training to interview descendants of the buried individuals as part of their oral history project.

What’s next? 

  • The commission’s project groups will continue their work on the Barbee Cemetery Project. 


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