In the letter, published on May 23, the alumni called for immediate reconsideration and wrote that Hannah-Jones must be tenured as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism. She is set to join the faculty in this position on July 1 under a fixed, five-year contract with the option to be reviewed for tenure at the end.
Hannah-Jones was granted the MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2020 for her work on the 1619 Project.
The alumni wrote that they believe it is incredibly valuable to learn directly from practicing professionals with careers in the fields of journalism, advertising, public relations and business. They also called for diversification of leadership.
“We expect a thorough and transparent evaluation to determine how we can best diversify this leadership body to better reflect the Carolina community, and to enrich and improve their decision-making going forward,” the letter read.
A group of 1,619 UNC alumni also showed support for Hannah-Jones in an advertisement in The News & Observer on May 26, in reference to the 1619 Project, which garnered criticism from conservatives.
Meredith Clark, who received her doctorate from the journalism school, said the Board of Trustees has a history of making bad decisions — citing Silent Sam as an example.
“I think with that (established) history, the public attention to that history and the outcry of the 1619 Project, the Board of Trustees was primed to take the non-action,” she said.
Clark said that because Hannah-Jones is a decorated journalist, there had to have been other motivations for the Board's decision. She said there was no reason for the Board to find Hannah-Jones' work inadequate.
Jonathan Jones, who received his master’s degree from the school in 2011, said the non-action is incredibly damaging to the Hussman School and the University at large. He said he thinks the tenure denial will make it more difficult to recruit diverse students and faculty to the University.
Meredith Collins received her master's degree from Hussman in 2019 and is now a doctoral student at the school. She said she did not understand why the Board of Trustees needed more time to consider Hannah-Jones’ qualifications for tenure.
“Going through tenure is a really long process," she said. "You have to put together all your accomplishments and achievements. It’s a long and lengthy process. I’m not fully understanding what they mean by ‘more time to consider (her qualifications).’”
Jeannette Porter, a Hussman graduate, said some people are uncomfortable with Hannah-Jones’ 1619 Project. She said the project confronted myths about America’s origins and pointed out truths about race in the United States.
Porter said she was shocked and disgusted when she first heard the news of Hannah-Jones not being granted tenure. She said she did not believe the decision was impartial and accurate.
“We need more representation of under-heard voices in newsrooms,” she said. “If journalism schools are being told when you hire these voices, 'You will be penalized,' I think it’s a terrible thing and it doesn’t bode well for democracy in the United States.”
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