Carnegie-Knight Deans Statement on Tenure for Nikole Hannah-Jones

Thursday, May 27, 2021 - 3:30pm

As deans of journalism and communication schools at some of the country’s leading research universities, we join with other journalists and educators to urge the trustees of the University of North Carolina to uphold the decision of the Hussman School of Journalism and Media to grant tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones.

A 2003 master’s graduate of UNC, Hannah-Jones has equivalent academic credentials to the prior two chairs at the school, both of whom received tenure upon appointment. She is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and a recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship “Genius Grant” as well as three National Magazine Awards, a Peabody Award and two Polk Awards.

The trustees, in failing to approve Hannah-Jones’ application following her appointment as Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism, have contradicted standard university practice, undermined the diligent tenure review process and ignored the recommendations of those most qualified to evaluate the academic and professional record of the faculty.

Opposition to the appointment appears to stem from Hannah-Jones’ work on The New York Times’ “The 1619 Project,” which examined how race and slavery shaped the U.S. The project has drawn criticism from political figures as well as a small group of scholars. It is at such moments that the protections of tenure are most important.

Our professional associations, the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) and the Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication (ASJMC), made this clear in a recent statement: “The protections of tenure are meant for precisely these circumstances — moments when faculty create work or promote ideas likely to provoke controversy and dissent no matter how scrupulously researched and argued. In addition to being unwarranted, the (UNC) board’s decision produces a chilling effect upon untenured junior scholars whose work examines race, gender, sexuality or other politically contentious areas of inquiry.”

Hannah-Jones has been offered an appointment as Professor of Practice, with a five-year term and the option of tenure consideration at the end of the first year. This appointment, described as a “work-around,” means she will remain on the UNC faculty but without the protection or status of tenure, which all too often has been denied to women and people of color.

As a governing body with authority over a major public university, the UNC Board of Trustees has an obligation to serve the public interest by supporting the free exchange of ideas and the academic freedoms necessary to that exchange.

We call on the trustees to reconsider their decision to withhold tenure and urge them to accept the recommendation of the school’s faculty and Dean and approve Hannah-Jones’ application for tenure.

Willow Bay
Dean, Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism University of Southern California

Geeta Anand
Dean and Professor, UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism University of California 

Lucy A. Dalglish
Dean and Professor, Philip Merrill College of Journalism University of Maryland

Kristin Gilger
Interim Dean, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication Arizona State University 

David Kurpius
Professor and Dean, Missouri School of Journalism University of Missouri 

Mark Lodato
Dean, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications Syracuse University

Shari Veil
Dean and Professor, College of Journalism & Mass Communications University of Nebraska–Lincoln 

Charles Whitaker
Professor & Dean, Medill School Northwestern University

Signatories are part of the Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism, a national task force of the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism
Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism