UNC’s Student Body President met with Chancellor to discuss Hannah-Jones’ tenure case, racism in the university

UNC Chapel Hill Student Body President Lamar Richards (L) and Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz (R)

UNC Chapel Hill Student Body President Lamar Richards met with Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz on Wednesday to discuss student concerns after the fallout of the Nikole Hannah-Jones tenure case. 

Richards discussed his conversation with Guskiewicz at the inaugural Campus President Council meeting, saying the chancellor was receptive to their concerns but offered little in terms of concrete solutions. 

“At the end of the conversation, we walked away with few answers on change moving forward,” Elliana Alexander, a member of the CPC who was present at the meeting, said. “The Chancellor told us that he is committed to continuing to learn from students’ experiences whose identities are different from his own.” 

Also in attendance at the meeting were Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Amy Johnson, and members of the CPC — a new group created under the Richards Administration that includes a variety of campus leaders, such as the presidents of the Black Student Movement and the Residence Hall Association. 

As Policy Watch reported, UNC’s Board of Trustees failed to hold a vote on tenure for Hannah-Jones, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and creator of the 1619 Project. She was hired at UNC as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative reporting — a position that has included tenure upon hire with all past Knight Chairs. 

Richards has petitioned the Board of Trustees, of which he is a member, to hold a special meeting to vote on tenure for Hannah-Jones. If five other board members join him in this petition, the board will be forced to hold a meeting within 10 days. 

Calls have risen from countless departments within the university for the board to hold a vote. Alexander said UNC’s Office of Faculty Governance also asked all student organizations to send their own statements to the board. 

Taliajah Vann, the president of UNC’s Black Student Movement, said Guskiewicz pointed to instances where he had publicly said Hannah-Jones should be a professor at UNC. He did not mention tenure in these statements. 

“I personally think that’s a very different statement than I think that Nicole Hannah-Jones should be a tenured professor here,” Vann said. “And I think that kind of begins to get into the root of the problem that Black students are having right now.” 

Last week, Richards wrote a letter in which he encouraged prospective students of color to rethink coming to UNC. 

“While Carolina desperately needs your representation and cultural contributions, it will only bring you here to tokenize and exploit you,” he wrote. “And to those that will attempt to misconstrue these words—my words—understand this: I love Carolina, yes, but I love my people and my community more.”

At the CPC meeting, Richards said he had gotten pushback from the Chancellor and members of the BOT about this letter. 

“I stand 1,000 percent by my words,” he said. “And I do not change them.” 

In addition to Hannah-Jones, students voiced their concerns to Guskiewicz about further issues with racism and inequity on campus. 

Vann reportedly told Guskiewicz that Black Student Movement has had to fill in the gaps in student support that the university has failed to provide. She mentioned that when students were forced to move out last fall after The number of COVID cases increased on campus, Black Student Movement had to help students find new places to live and pay off their housing. 

“The reality is, we have nearly 900 student groups on campus and we keep getting more and more,” Richards said. “It’s not because students are having new bursts of creativity, although we are very creative, it’s because every day there’s a new need we’re finding that isn’t being addressed by the university, and we’re taking the initiative to do it by ourselves.” 

Richards concluded the CPC’s inaugural meeting by asking members to continue sending letters to the BOT urging a vote on tenure for Hannah-Jones. 

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