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UNC responds to letter from Hannah-Jones' legal team as deadline passes to offer tenure


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

UNC responded on Friday to a letter from the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. about Nikole Hannah-Jones’ employment, according to a statement from Joel Curran, vice chancellor for communications.

“We look forward to continued dialogue with her counsel,” Curran said in the statement.

Curran’s statement is the only information the University will share at this time, according to UNC Media Relations.

Hannah-Jones’ legal team gave UNC until Friday to offer her a tenured position or face a federal lawsuit, according to the letter, which was obtained by NC Policy Watch on May 29.

The attorneys outlined the case in the letter, including Hannah-Jones’ qualifications and the timeline of her tenure application.

"The reasons for UNC's denial of tenure to Ms. Hannah-Jones can only be understood as the product of political and racially discriminatory backlash against her life's work investigating, documenting, reporting, and uplifting Black Americans' fight against generational subjugation through racial oppression and structural injustice," the letter read.

The Board of Trustees did not meet again by the deadline.

Hannah-Jones said in a statement on May 27 that she believes Americans who work to uncover truths about racism, past and present, should be able to pursue this work without their civil and constitutional rights being in danger.

"I had no desire to bring turmoil or a political firestorm to the university that I love, but I am obligated to fight back against a wave of anti-democratic suppression that seeks to prohibit the free exchange of ideas, silence Black voices and chill free speech," she said.

Hannah-Jones is set to join the faculty on July 1 as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media. She has been offered a five-year contract with the option of being reviewed for tenure at the end.

Chairperson of the Faculty Mimi Chapman said one purpose of the Knight Chair position is to grant tenured positions to practicing journalists. 

“That is not a requirement at the Knight Foundation, but that’s how it’s always been done on this campus,” Chapman said. “So, you know (Hannah-Jones) is being considered really differently than her predecessors in the Knight Chair. It’s an unusual situation.”

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