Nikole Hannah-Jones says she won’t join UNC without a warrant

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones told the University of North Carolina that she will not be joining her faculty as scheduled next month unless she is tenured, according to a letter from her lawyers .

Ms Hannah-Jones, a New York Times Magazine correspondent, had agreed to teach at the university’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media as Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism. Her appointment sparked stiff opposition from conservatives nationwide over Ms. Hannah-Jones ‘role in the creation of The Times’ Project 1619 – an ambitious series that reframed U.S. history through the prism of the slavery – and she was ultimately denied the warrant.

The letter, initially reported by NC Policy Watch and published on its site, made clear reference to political interference by an anonymous “powerful donor” whose influence “contributed to the failure of the board of directors to consider his application for tenure.”

“In light of this information, Ms. Hannah-Jones cannot believe that the university will consider her request for tenure in good faith during the term of the fixed-term contract,” according to the letter, dated Monday.

The letter appears to refer to Walter E. Hussman Jr., a newspaper editor named after the university’s school of journalism who raised concerns about hiring Ms. Hannah-Jones. The letter was signed by a lawyer from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. and the law firms Levy Ratner and Ferguson Chambers & Sumter, who represent Ms. Hannah-Jones.

Joel Curran, spokesperson for the University of North Carolina, confirmed that the school had been contacted by the legal team. He said Ms Hannah-Jones’ employment status was “a matter of confidential personnel”, adding: “We believe she will bring great value to the Caroline campus.”

The university’s tenure committee and chancellor, along with the journalism school’s dean and faculty, recommended her for tenure when she was hired, which was announced in April. But the school board decided to take no action, effectively denying Ms. Hannah-Jones tenure. Instead, she accepted a five-year contract, with a review option.

In May, Ms Hannah-Jones, who earned a master’s degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina in 2003, said she was considering filing a discrimination complaint over the board’s refusal to approve the incumbency. .

Her legal team followed up on the letter to university lawyers on Monday saying Ms. Hannah-Jones could not “start working at the university without job protection and security.” The letter stated that she had not withdrawn her application for tenure.

Mr Hussman had criticized aspects of Project 1619 in emails to university leaders, including Susan King, the dean of the Hussman School. But he said in an interview with The Times this month that he did not want to influence the board’s decision regarding Ms Hannah-Jones.

“I really wanted to educate them more about Project 1619,” said Mr. Hussman, longtime editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock and a UNC graduate. “And I thought, I know a lot more about it now, after reading it – not superficially but carefully.”

Speaking of the board members, he said: “They are going to have to make their own decision.”

Mr Hussman, who pledged $ 25 million to the school of journalism, said any decision regarding Ms Hannah-Jones’ role at the university would not affect her future donations.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. did not respond to a request for comment.

Project 1619, the name of which is derived from the year African slaves were brought to the English colony of Virginia, drew initial criticism from five prominent historians. The series has become the center of a cultural debate in part because of a series of 1619 Project school lesson plans developed by the Pulitzer Center and offered on its website.

Last month, 1,619 University of North Carolina students and alumni signed one two pages advertisement published in The News & Observer of Raleigh, North Carolina, requesting that Ms. Hannah-Jones be established. In addition, more than 200 academics and cultural figures – including author Ta-Nehisi Coates, filmmaker Ava DuVernay and historian Eric Foner – signed a letter published in The Root last month saying the board had shows a “lack of courage” in refusing to grant him tenure.

Republican lawmakers in nearly a dozen states have also proposed bills targeting Project 1619.


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