Faculty from many departments across the University have issued statements of support for Nikole Hannah-Jones after the UNC Board of Trustees initially failed to offer her a tenured position.
On Wednesday, the Board voted 9-4 in a special meeting to approve Hannah-Jones’ tenure application. Faculty members are encouraged by the decision, but they say this situation has been nothing new for people of color at UNC.
Seth Noar is a professor in the Hussman School of Journalism and Media and the journalism and media representative on the Committee on Appointments, Promotions and Tenure. He said he is pleased with the outcome of the vote.
“I'm feeling very good that they finished out the process,” he said. “I think that's really important for our University.”
Chairperson of the Faculty Mimi Chapman said she was hopeful the Board would approve Hannah-Jones’ tenure and feels it was the right decision.
She said it would have been an “incredible breach” with the faculty to not approve the tenure.
“They have to know the campus was very unified,” Chapman said. “This opinion, that academic matters, that the tenure process needs to be respected — that was just not in debate anywhere on our campus.”
Susan King, dean of the Hussman School, said the decision took longer than she imagined, but she is appreciative that the Board voted in favor of the school’s recommendation.
"(Hannah-Jones) is a journalist’s journalist, a teacher’s teacher and a woman of substance with a voice of consequence," she said. "Hannah-Jones will make our school better with her presence. She will deepen the University’s commitment to intellectual integrity and to access for all."
King said the outpouring of support has reinforced the principles of the University and will help carry it forward.
Chapman said she anticipates Hannah-Jones will be embraced with a warm welcome to UNC’s campus.
“This outpouring demonstrates that people want her here,” she said. “I hope her ideas, her writing and scholarship is talked about, debated and used in the classroom. I just want her to have a great career here.”
Associate professor Kathy Williams said she was encouraged by the turnout of the students and faculty — but she was discouraged by the lack of clarity from the Board regarding the closed session. She said the lack of transparency does much more harm than good.
Deborah Stroman, a professor at the Gillings School of Global Public Health and a lifetime member of the Carolina Black Caucus, also said she was disappointed by the lack of clarity.
“It’s not a separation, this is a community," she said. "It’s just a continuum of trauma and drama that’s taken place at this University ever since brown and Black people were admitted and started working here.
Williams said that as a Black professor, it feels demoralizing and exhausting to constantly have to fight for Black faculty’s place on campus.
“There’s a constant crisis that’s happening,” she said. “What they’re trying to do is run us out of here. They will not get the satisfaction of wearing me down.”
Hannah-Jones’ case was just one piece in a larger conversation surrounding systemic racism at the University, Noar said.
Chapman said it would have been disheartening to the campus community if Hannah-Jones had not been offered tenure. She said this decision allows the University to continue necessary diversity and inclusion efforts.
“Does it cure everything on our campus, speak to every problem that has been brought to light during this last month?” Chapman said. “No, it doesn’t. But it gives us the opportunity to remedy some of those difficulties.”
Noar said going forward, it is important that all faculty are treated equally in the tenure process, and that departments have the ability to hire faculty who they feel are qualified.
Noar also said he hopes the University learned some important lessons when it comes to equity and academic freedom.
“The University has a lot of soul-searching to do on issues of race,” he said. "We need to do a lot better. And we need the whole campus to bring the passion and energy to this work as they did for Nikole Hannah-Jones."
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