We, the faculty and staff of the School of Education at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill urge the UNC Board of Trustees to resist political and philanthropic pressure, reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom and academic excellence, and support established university governance procedures by acting immediately to review Nikole Hannah-Jones for tenure.
A MacArthur Fellowship recipient, Pulitzer Prize winner, and a proud UNC alumna, Hannah-Jones is among the most respected journalists working in the United States today. As scholars of educational theory, policy, and practice, we can speak directly to the high quality and wide-ranging influence of her investigative reporting on school segregation and racial inequality in U.S. schools. Hannah-Jones’s journalism yields important insights about the role of race and systemic racism in contemporary U.S. public education and more broadly. She brings to light histories that are too-often hidden from view and amplifies voices that are too often silenced. As educators, we recognize that the best instruction results from a broad consideration of multiple viewpoints and perspectives. Hannah-Jones’s perspective will deeply enrich teaching and learning at UNC.
Hannah-Jones’ professional qualifications are beyond dispute. Our colleagues at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media selected Hannah-Jones as a Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism and endorsed her appointment as a full professor with tenure. In doing so, they have carefully reviewed Hannah-Jones’ scholarship and qualifications for the position and clearly articulated the high regard in which they hold her professional achievements. The Board of Trustee’s failure to act on a clear recommendation to tenure Hannah-Jones – despite her undeniable credentials – represents a glaring double standard that reflects the very type of deep and systemic racism that Hannah-Jones’ work seeks to bring to light.
The UNC Board of Trustees has evidenced a remarkable disdain for faculty judgment and established procedure in its failure to consider Hannah-Jones’ case for tenure. The risks to our university community are great if the board continues to acquiesce to pressures from outspoken donors and political actors. The UNC Policy Manual articulates a clear commitment to intellectual freedom: “The University therefore supports and encourages freedom of inquiry for faculty members and students, to the end that they may responsibly pursue these goals through teaching, learning, research, discussion, and publication, free from internal or external restraints that would unreasonably restrict their academic endeavors.” This commitment is a cornerstone of academic excellence at UNC and throughout the field of academia generally. The BOT’s actions are a threat to both.
As faculty and staff, we are dedicated to the University’s founding principles of “lux, libertas.” The Board of Trustee’s failure to act on Nikole Hannah-Jones’s position contradicts those founding principles, prioritizing the comfort of the powerful and political convenience over the light of transparency and the liberty of scholarship and freedom of thought.