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With a vote of 9-4, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Board of Trustees approved tenure for investigative journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones on Wednesday, after previously declining to do so.
Hannah-Jones created and wrote the lead essay of The 1619 Project for The New York Times, exploring the legacy of slavery in the United States. She won a Pulitzer Prize for her work, but was criticized by some scholars and conservatives over her conclusion as to why the Founding Fathers sought independence from the British. In April, Hannah-Jones was offered the position of Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism, but on a five-year teaching contract. Historically, the other Knight chairs have received tenure, which is job security in the form of an indefinite appointment that can only be terminated under extraordinary circumstances.
This elicited outrage from supporters of Hannah-Jones who accused the board of bowing to pressure from conservatives, and more than 40 of Hannah-Jones’ UNC colleagues signed a statement calling the decision not to grant her tenure “very disheartening.” Now that she has tenure, Hannah-Jones will start in her new role on Thursday.
Walter Hussman, a UNC donor and alumnus, told NPR he was concerned about Hannah-Jones receiving tenure, and spoke to administrators and a trustee about it. He is a newspaper publisher in Arkansas, and said he worries “that we’re moving away from those time-tested principles of journalism that we had in the 20th Century that were so effective at engendering tremendous trust in the media.” In response, Hannah-Jones told NPR most mainstream newspapers “reflect power,” and that is why “many of these populations don’t trust them. So when I hear that, I think he’s speaking to a different audience.”