Last summer, the UNC Board of Trustees initially failed to grant tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and creator of the 1619 Project, which reframes U.S. history and examines the legacy of slavery in the U.S.
Hannah-Jones' tenure application was eventually approved by the BOT in a 9-4 decision in June — but she declined the offer, instead accepting a tenured position at Howard University.
This is not a situation unfamiliar for many UNC faculty of color.
Since 2010, the number of faculty of color at the University has increased gradually. But the retention of talent is waning, as prominent faculty of color in leadership positions choose to leave the University.
Hannah-Jones' tenure situation highlights the differences in treatment and retention of faculty of color compared to their white counterparts at UNC. And some in the University community are looking toward solutions to the longstanding problem.
Leah Cox, UNC’s vice provost for equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer, said it is important to hire a critical mass. Faculty of color who are the only people of color in their department, or are the only tenured people of color in their departments, often feel as though they are not welcome or at home, she said.
Cox also said that it is important that the University not overcommit faculty of color to committees.
“Especially if you’re on a tenure track, you have to do all your research, all your scholarships, still teach your classes, apply for grants — and if you’re sitting on 20 different committees, you don’t have time to do all that,” Cox said.
Dr. Keisha Gibson, an associate professor of medicine and pediatrics and vice chairperson of diversity and inclusion for the department of medicine, said UNC needs to work on helping faculty of color feel valued. She said this is important to address the invisible labor done by faculty of color that is not necessarily compensated or rewarded.