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SBP Lamar Richards calls for BOT special meeting for action on Hannah-Jones' tenure


Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and MacArthur Fellow Nikole Hannah-Jones, poses for a portrait. Photo courtesy of John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Update June 23 at 12:51 p.m.: UNC Student Body President Lamar Richards submitted a formal meeting request to the Board of Trustees petitioning for a special called meeting by or on June 30 to discuss and take formal action on Nikole Hannah-Jones’ tenure situation.

“I make this formal petition for a special called meeting for the sake of our University’s future, not as the sole corrective measure for inclusion efforts on campus but as the first step to ignite this critical phase of bolstering inclusion for Carolina,” he said in the email first obtained by NC Policy Watch.

A special meeting must be called within 10 days if at least five other members of the Board join Richards and also submit a formal written request, according to the Board's by-laws.

Nikole Hannah-Jones will not join the UNC faculty unless she is offered a tenured position, according to a letter obtained by NC Policy Watch.

Hannah-Jones will also not start her position on July 1 as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism, according to the letter, which Hannah-Jones' legal team sent to the University on Monday.

The previous two Knight Chairs at UNC received tenure upon hiring, but Hannah-Jones was offered a fixed, five-year contract as a professor of the practice, with the option to be reviewed for tenure at the end.

NC Policy Watch reported that two BOT members said they were frustrated with the lack of decisiveness by the Board.

One trustee said some other members of the Board as well as some in the UNC-System leadership want Hannah-Jones to take the job under lesser conditions than her white predecessors, according to Policy Watch.

"If we don’t deal with this sooner rather than later, we are going to be fighting a legal fight over it while we have Black students and faculty leaving the University in large numbers, which we are already seeing," the trustee told Policy Watch. "How do we think we are going to recruit top students and faculty under these conditions?”

Susan King, dean of the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, wrote about the tenure case in a weekly message to the journalism school faculty Sunday. She encouraged members of the faculty to write directly to Board Chairperson Richard Stevens to express their points of view and noted that Stevens' term will end June 30.

"I believe deeply in our values as a journalism school focused on preparing our students for a multi-racial democracy where they will ignite the public conversation," King wrote.

King also told The News & Observer Tuesday that she has not heard from the administration about the letter from Hannah-Jones' legal team this week, but she said the trustees have UNC's reputation in their hands, and she looks forward to their vote.

Chairperson of the Faculty Mimi Chapman called the Board out for remaining silent on the situation in a letter to the UNC community on Saturday and called for clarity regarding the decision for a fixed-term path for Hannah-Jones.

She also said this situation reflects the larger issues of academic hiring within the University, noting that multiple faculty women of color have announced their departures from UNC in recent weeks.

"Hannah-Jones is being considered really differently than her predecessors in the Knight Chair," Chapman told The Daily Tar Heel in May. "It’s an unusual situation.”

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