Carnegie-Knight journalism deans urge tenure vote for Nikole Hannah-Jones

On Thursday deans of schools of journalism and communications schools at many of the nation’s top research universities urged the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to grant tenure to acclaimed journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones.

The group of eight deans are 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.

“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,” the deans wrote. ”

“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 deans wrote. “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.”

The deans pointed to a recent statement from the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) and the Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication (ASJMC) about the importance of tenure.

Nikole Hannah Jones

“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” that statement read. “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,” the deans wrote. “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 Policy Watch first reported last week, the board failed to approve tenure for Hannah-Jones, a winner of the prestigious George Polk and  George Foster Peabody awards and Pulitzer Prize for her journalism. She was instead hired on a five year fixed-term contract — a striking departure from precedent. Previous Knight Chairs at UNC have been hired with tenure.

Sources on the board told Policy Watch that trustees had political objections to Hannah-Jones’s work and faced pressure from conservatives to prevent approval of her tenure. Board members described the five-year contract as a “work-around” negotiated to prevent the tenure vote from coming to the board, where debate would quickly have become political.

Board chairman Richard Stevens said last week the matter never came to a full vote of the board because University Affairs committee Chairman Chuck Duckett asked that it be put on hold. Board members had concerns about Hannah-Jones coming from a non-academic background, Stevens said. All previous Knight Chair professors have been media professionals, not academics. The positions are designed to bring those professionals and their industry knowledge into classrooms at universities across the country.

This week, after national headlines and letters of protest from faculty, students, alumni and academics from across the country, the school’s provost re-submitted Hannah-Jones to the board for tenure consideration.

As Policy Watch reported this week, Hannah-Jones has hired legal counsel and is now considering a federal action for discrimination.

“I had no desire to bring turmoil or a political firestorm to the university that I love,” Hannah-Jones said in a statement Thursday. “But I am obligated to fight back against a wave of anti-democratic suppression that seeks to prohibit the free exchange of ideas, silence Black voices and chill free speech.”

Read the full letter from the Carnegie-Knight Deans below.

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

 

Top Stories from NCPW

  • News
  • Commentary

With nearly 200 active COVID cases among students and staff, board will revisit mask mandate Monday [...]

Like millions of women, Sarah Anderson saw her income drop during the pandemic when her two part-tim [...]

Proposals would fund universal pre-K and free community college, hasten shift to renewable energy WA [...]

Last week, the Prison Policy Initiative published a report – "States of Incarceration: The Glob [...]

Vaccine refusal is a major reason COVID-19 infections continue to surge in the U.S. Safe and effecti [...]

Abortion is a common and normal part of the range of reproductive healthcare services that people ha [...]

Zac Campbell paused suddenly and took a minute to gather himself, while colleagues shuffled toward h [...]

Read the story by reporter Lisa Sorg here. The post Clear and present danger: Burlington’s Tarheel A [...]

A Clear and Present Danger

 

NC’s Tarheel Army Missile Plant is a toxic disgrace
Read the two-part story about the Army’s failure to clean up hazardous chemicals, which have contaminated a Black and Hispanic neighborhood for 30 years.

Read in English.


Haga clic aquí para leer: Peligro inminente
Una antigua planta de misiles del Ejército ha contaminado un vecindario negro y latino durante 30 años.

Leer en español.