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UNC Board of Trustees votes 9-4 to approve Nikole Hannah-Jones' tenure application

Protestors stand inside the Board of Trustees special meeting on Wednesday before the board went into closed session for the vote on Nikole Hannah-Jones' tenure.

The UNC Board of Trustees voted 9-4 to approve Nikole Hannah-Jones' tenure application in a special meeting Wednesday. 

In response to the vote, Hannah-Jones said in a statement that she was honored and grateful for all the support she has received from students, faculty, colleagues and the general public over the  past month.

“Today’s outcome and the actions of the past month are about more than just me," she said in the statement. "This fight is about ensuring the journalistic and academic freedom of Black writers, researchers, teachers, and students. We must ensure that our work is protected and able to proceed free from the risk of repercussions, and we are not there yet. These last weeks have been very challenging and difficult and I need to take some time to process all that has occurred and determine what is the best way forward.”

The meeting began at 3:15 p.m. and soon went into closed session, a standard practice for personnel matters. But this had not been communicated with the public, and demonstrators refused to leave the room. UNC Police officers forcibly removed them.

Hannah-Jones wrote in a tweet that a lack of communication about the process led to confusion, and Black students were shoved and punched when there should have been an attempt to deescalate the situation.

"This is not right," she wrote.

Hannah-Jones wrote in another tweet that her legal team did not request the closed session, but that it was standard procedure for tenure votes to be held in closed session.

"... Our desire was, for the first time in this process, to be treated by the BoT like every other tenure candidate," she wrote.

The closed session lasted almost three hours, during most of which students had to wait outside of the inn.

Once the meeting came back to open session, the Board held a formal vote and approved Hannah-Jones' tenure application. Trustees Dave Boliek, Haywood Cochrane, Allie Ray McCullen and John Preyer voted against it. 

"In (approving the tenure), this board reaffirms that the University puts its highest values first," Trustee Gene Davis said.

Demonstrators laughed in response.

UNC Media Relations directed The Daily Tar Heel to Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz's remarks from Wednesday's meeting when asked for comment.

"Ultimately, I am glad that the matter of tenure for Nikole Hannah-Jones has been resolved," Guskiewicz said during the meeting. "Professor Hannah-Jones will add great value to our University. Our students are eager to learn from her, and we are ready to welcome her to the Carolina faculty this fall."

Walter Hussman, the namesake of UNC's journalism school, told the DTH earlier this month that he was concerned the school would become more closely aligned with Hannah-Jones and The 1619 Project than with his own core values of journalism.

He expressed his concerns through emails to Hussman School Dean Susan King, Guskiewicz, Vice Chancellor for University Development David Routh and one trustee in September.

In an email to the DTH on Wednesday, Hussman said he looks forward to meeting and discussing journalism with Hannah-Jones, and that he plans to continue supporting the school and advocating for the core values.

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"As I have said repeatedly, expressing a concern is the limit of what any donor should do in such a situation," Hussman wrote. "I respect that academic freedom requires that the authority for hiring faculty rests solely with the University."

Wednesday's meeting came after Student Body President Lamar Richards submitted a formal meeting request on June 23 to the Board petitioning for a special called meeting to discuss and take formal action on Hannah-Jones' case. The request came after Hannah-Jones’ legal team announced she would not join UNC faculty without tenure. 

Hannah-Jones was set to join the UNC faculty Thursday as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism. The previous two Knight Chairs at UNC received tenure upon hiring, but Hannah-Jones was initially offered a fixed, five-year contract, with the option to be reviewed for tenure at the end. 

The Board's decision comes after many University affiliates released statements and held protests in support of Hannah-Jones.

Many of these statements came after Chairperson of the Faculty Mimi Chapman wrote a letter urging UNC community members to speak out on the situation. 

“You do not have to agree with Ms. Hannah-Jones' conclusions in The 1619 Project to do this,” she wrote. “You only have to agree that faculty voices must govern the tenure process for academic integrity to have meaning.” 

Wednesday was the last day on the Board for six of the 13 trustees: Chairperson Richard Stevens and Trustees Jeff Brown, G. Munroe Cobey, Haywood Cochrane, Chuck Duckett and Kelly Matthews Hopkins.

Hannah-Jones' tenure situation has highlighted long-standing issues for faculty of color at UNC, and several have announced their departures from the University in recent weeks.

@laurmccarthyy | @isabellareillyy

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.