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Column: Hussman’s provisional accreditation is not “unexpected”

DTH File. Carroll Hall houses UNC Chapel Hill's school of media and journalism.

Earlier this week, UNC's Hussman School of Journalism and Media’s accreditation status was downgraded by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, according to a report by WRAL’s Cullen Browder. 

Challenges to the Hussman School’s accreditation come after ACEJMC found the program out of compliance with its 2021 standards for diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice. 

Despite immediate, and understandable, outrage at the profoundly irresponsible administration that allowed this to happen, we shouldn’t be surprised that the program’s priorities are so maligned. It’s nothing that the journalism school – and UNC as a whole – hasn’t demonstrated to us before.

Heidi Hennink-Kaminski, interim dean of the Hussman school, naively told WRAL that this decision was “unexpected.” In reality, sanctions against a program that has routinely denied opportunity for BIPOC faculty and students are overdue.

Nikole Hannah-Jones being initially denied tenure prompted BIPOC faculty to call out longstanding inequities that go far beyond the events of last summer. The first and only Black woman to have tenure in the Hussman School – Dr. Trevy McDonald – was not awarded this status until 2018. 

BIPOC faculty bear the burden of orchestrating racial equity initiatives, often working unpaid hours to petition for and spearhead DEI reforms. Meanwhile, they are vastly underrepresented. White members make up about 73 percent of UNC’s faculty. Black students are only 8 percent of the student population, despite making up over 20 percent of the state population. 

Meanwhile, a predominately white administration has systemically ignored the demands of Black student leaders, even going so far as to make multi-million dollar deals with Confederate groups.

It’s not just a Hussman problem, but a reflection of UNC as a whole. There is an institutional unwillingness to grapple with longstanding gaps in equity for students and faculty of color.

Don’t let the magnitude of ACEJMC’s decision escape you, either. The Hussman School’s accreditation has been downgraded to a provisional status, joining only three other universities in the country. The school has two years to demonstrate compliance with the national accreditation committee’s standards to be regranted full accreditation, or stripped of this prestige completely.

There is no way, according to ACEJMC, for this provisional status period to be expanded. This is a big deal.

For both students and professors, belonging to an accredited journalism program is an honor that reflects well on their research and studies. Without accreditation, this prestige falls short. ACEJMC accreditation also confirms compliance with basic standards for educational excellence in the field of media studies.

For students who move into the journalism industry, having a degree from an accredited program is incredibly useful. The Hussman School is denying us of these tools for success, all while refusing to uphold the bare minimum standards for diversity.

In August 2021, I wrote about how we, as students, can advocate for change and reflect the equity we hope to see in our journalism program. It’s now evidently clear that we cannot inspire change in an institution that has fought, tooth and nail, against inclusivity.

It’s beyond administrative negligence. 

UNC and the Hussman School have sacrificed their own national prestige and the success of students to avoid taking action on the severe inequities their BIPOC constituents routinely face. If you’re not angry, you should be.


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Caitlyn Yaede

Caitlyn Yaede is the 2023-24 print managing editor of The Daily Tar Heel and oversees weekly print production. She previously served as the DTH's opinion editor and summer editor. Caitlyn is a public policy master's student at UNC.

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