U.S. Department of Education extends Title IX protections to gay and transgender students

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights announced Wednesday that it would extend Title IX protections to gay and transgender students. 

“Today, the Department makes clear that all students—including LGBTQ+ students—deserve the opportunity to learn and thrive in schools that are free from discrimination,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, said in a statement.

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona

Title IX is a federal civil rights law passed in 1972 that prohibits discrimination based on sex in schools. 

In a landmark decision last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity was unconstitutional. The DOE said their new interpretation of Title IX stems from this case. 

“What this means for students is that we can align to protecting students of all gender identities within schools,” Rebby Kern, director of education policy at Equality NC said. 

The DOE’s move overturns Trump-era interpretations of Title IX. In May of last year, the Trump Administration said that Title IX protections did not extend to transgender students, and threatened to cut off federal funding to schools that allowed transgender athletes to participate in school sports. 

The news comes after North Carolina dealt with its own flurry of anti-transgender laws in recent months. 

In March, a group of N.C. Republicans sponsored the “Save Women’s Sports Act,” a bill aimed at ensuring that only biologically female students could participate in women’s sports — excluding transgender athletes. 

Two more bills were introduced the following month, seeking to ban gender-affirming healthcare for transgender individuals under 21 and allowing healthcare providers to refuse any treatment that violated their conscience. 

Rebby Kern, director of education policy at Equality NC

Kern said that the DOE’s new interpretation of Title IX would protect trans students from bills like the “Save Women’s Sports Act,” but wider federal legislation is needed to combat bills that seek to restrict healthcare. 

None of these bills made it to the Governor’s desk — but they echoed another piece of anti-trans legislation in North Carolina’s recent history. 

HB2, also known as “the bathroom bill” was signed into law in 2016. It overturned an ordinance in Charlotte that sought to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity and forbade any local governments to pass similar laws. It also prohibited transgender individuals from using public restrooms that corresponded with their gender. 

HB2 was repealed a year later, after the state had already lost the NCAA Championship and over $3 billion in business because of it. To pass the repeal, lawmakers reached a compromise that put a three year moratorium on any local governments passing anti-discrimination ordinances. 

A month after the moratorium lifted in 2019, local governments across the state began to adopt LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws. Hillsborough, Carrboro and Chapel Hill were the first this past January, with more towns beginning to follow. 

Kern said there is much work left to be done to protect LGBTQ Americans, but the DOE’s move is a significant step in the right direction. 

“Having a clear Title IX statement that says gender identity and sexual orientation are included in the way that we interpret discrimination can help hold the door open for academic achievement for all children in schools,” they said. 

Speakers at conservative think tank seminar denounce Nikole Hannah-Jones hire, reporting on tenure controversy 

Peter Wood of the conservative National Association of Scholars speaks at Monday’s event (YouTube screenshot)

The John Locke Foundation, a North Carolina-based conservative think tank, held an online seminar on the Nikole Hannah-Jones tenure controversy on Monday at which speakers lambasted the work of journalists covering the case and the decision of UNC-Chapel Hill to hire Hannah-Jones in the first place. 

Hannah-Jones was hired as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at UNC Hussman — the university’s journalism school. Conservatives have long criticized her work on the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project, which centers American history around the institution of slavery. 

The panel, which included no people of color, debated the accuracy of Hannah-Jones’ work and whether slavery was the primary foundation of the United States. 

Jenna Robinson, president of the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal — another conservative think tank, criticized the “sensationalism” of the reporting on the tenure debate and claimed that many news outlets got the story wrong by saying she was “denied” tenure. 

“An organization here in North Carolina, later found out that the position was untenured and incorrectly assumed that it was because of conservative criticism,” Robinson said. 

It’s worth noting that Policy Watch did not use the word “deny” to describe the board’s action when it broke the news that Hannah-Jones would not be receiving tenure. Several national news outlets, such as the New York Times, did use the word “deny” in their stories. Policy Watch’s article also did not make the claim that Hannah-Jones not receiving tenure because of conservative criticism, but did feature multiple Board of Trustees members who said the decision not to grant tenure was because of politics. 

As Policy Watch reported, the Board of Trustees at UNC did not take a vote on tenure for Hannah-Jones after faculty and administrators completed a rigorous recommendation process. Last week, Hannah-Jones threatened legal action against the university if it did not hold a vote on tenure by Friday — a deadline that has now passed. 

While it is technically inaccurate to say Hannah-Jones was “denied tenure” because the Board of Trustees did not vote on tenure, the trustees have repeatedly resisted calls to hold a vote on the matter, which effectively produced the same result.

Panelists at today’s event also repeatedly claimed Hannah-Jones did not have the academic merit needed to be awarded tenure, without mentioning that every previous Knight Chair at UNC had comparable academic experience to Hannah-Jones and was hired with tenure. 

“She’s an academic celebrity, seemingly without the academics,” Matthew Spalding, Vice President for Washington Operations at Hillsdale College said. 

Hannah-Jones has garnered national publicity for her work on the 1619 Project. She also received her Master’s Degree from UNC-Chapel Hill. Spalding was the Executive Director of former President Trump’s Advisory “1776 Commission,” which produced a report that argues 1776 was the true, original founding date of the United States. 

“What is great about America is that a nation which included slaveholders could begin the nation by saying that all men are created equal,” Spalding said. “And that the playing of those principles ultimately led to abolition.”

Panelists frequently cited alleged historical inaccuracies within the 1619 Project as evidence that Hannah-Jones was undeserving of tenure. Perhaps most notably, critics have cited a claim made in one 1619 Project essay that identified the preservation of slavery as a primary motivation of colonists in waging the American Revolution. 

The Times later amended the story to say that “some of the colonists” fought to preserve slavery. This from that statement:
Read more

UNC-Chapel Hill Faculty Executive Committee urges trustees to vote on tenure for acclaimed journalist

The UNC-Chapel Hill Faculty Executive Committee held a special meeting Monday to discuss the Board of Trustees’ failure to grant tenure to acclaimed journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones. 

The committee unanimously passed a resolution asking the board to immediately take up the matter of tenure for Hannah-Jones.

“The Faculty Executive Committee strongly urges the Board of Trustees to uphold the long tradition of respect for recommendations from faculty bodies in hiring and tenure cases,” the committee wrote. “And to take up the matter of tenure for Nikole Hannah-Jones immediately, and to explain to the fullest extent possible, without violating the law, the reasons for its decision,”

As Policy Watch reported last week, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Pulitzer Prize-winner and creator of the 1619 Project was not granted tenure upon her hire at UNC as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism. The Knight Program at UNC has historically hired all of its professors with tenure. The board delayed a vote on tenure for Hannah-Jones. Board members said leaders on the board let the school’s administration know it would not be approved, leading to the five year contract. Policy Watch has agreed not to identify those board members so that they can discuss a confidential personnel matter.

Over the weekend Hannah-Jones removed her position with UNC-Chapel Hill from her bio on Twitter, leading some faculty and students to worry she is leaning toward walking away from the job.

“I think we need to do it immediately,” said Faculty Chair Mimi Chapman of getting an up-or-down vote of the board of trustees on tenure.  “[Hannah-Jones] is waiting. She will take another job.”

The committee spent the beginning of their meeting in closed session to discuss “confidential personnel matters,” but returned to open session to workshop their resolution.

The committee discussed their anger with the board of trustees for ignoring their recommendation for tenure, as well as their desire for the board to hold a vote as quickly as possible on the matter.

“I see no reason to hide the fact that we are outraged,” Eric Muller, law professor at UNC and member of the committee said.

UNC-Chapel Hill Faculty Chair Mimi Chapman in Monday’s meeting.

Board of Trustees Chairman Richard Stevens has repeatedly stressed the board has taken no action whatsoever on Hannah-Jones’ tenure. But members of the faculty executive committee said that doesn’t absolve them of responsibility.

“I think not taking an action is an action,” Faculty Chair Mimi Chapman said.

Tim Ives, UNC pharmacy professor and committee member, said if the board of trustees did not respond to their resolution they could use legal counsel to take the request to the UNC System office. The resolution would likely be reviewed by System President Peter Hans, the UNC Board of Governors and its University Governance Committee — all of which would be done in closed sessions.

“You would hope you’ve got a board of trustees and a chair that would at least respond with a rationale,” Ives said.  “That’s the bare minimum.”

Stevens and UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz did not appear to be present at the meeting.

Last week Lamar Richards, UNC-Chapel Hill student body president and  member of the board of trustees, issued a statement demanding a board vote on tenure for  Hannah-Jones.

“If we truly want transparency, harmony, and success at Carolina, you all will act swiftly to get the matter of her tenure before our Board in a Special called meeting to discuss further the merits of her application and candidacy – in open session (if legally allowed, once receiving her consent),” Richards wrote. “We have a duty to this University to uphold the values we all hold so dear.”

Richards’ letter was the latest in a series of similar public statements from student, faculty and alumni groups, the National Association of Black Journalists, the Knight Foundation and Knight Chair professors from across the country. In a Monday statement on Twitter Susan King, dean of the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, also urged the board to vote on tenure for Hannah-Jones.

Policy Watch reached out to Stevens and Guskiewicz for a response.

“University leaders are aware of the interest on this matter and will respond privately,” University Media Relations told Policy Watch.

N.C. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and Gov. Roy Cooper have both been active behind the scenes as UNC-Chapel Hill navigates the latest in a series national controversies for the school, sources with direct knowledge of negotiations told Policy Watch Monday.

The UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees is appointed by the N.C. General Assembly and UNC Board of Governors, which is itself appointed by the legislature. The governor’s office played a part in that appointment process until 2016, when Republican Governor Pat McCrory lost the gubernatorial race to Cooper, a Democrat.  In the wake of Cooper’s victory, the GOP-led General Assembly stripped the governor’s office of his appointments to boards of trustees at the state’s universities.

“There are a lot of political interests here and obviously it would be in everyone’s interest to handle this without it being a further embarrassment,” one source with direct knowledge of negotiations said. “While there’s a lot of heat on this issue, there are also some people who feel like it’s a good time to see if they can press to get what they want out of it. This isn’t really what you’re supposed to do with a university system, hold up academic appointments for politics. But right now in this state, there’s nothing that isn’t political.”

Policy Watch intern Kyle Ingram is a student in the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media. Policy Watch reporter Joe Killian contributed to this report.

Demonstrators protest denial of tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones ahead of UNC-CH Board of Trustees meeting

UNC-Chapel chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and demonstrators at this morning’s Board of Trustees meeting (Photo: Kyle Ingram)

Demonstrators from the Carolina Black Caucus and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP gathered outside the Carolina Inn on Thursday to protest the Board of Trustees refusal to grant tenure to acclaimed journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones. 

“Lots of people are frustrated, they are angry, they are feeling unseen and unheard,” Dawna Jones, chair of the Carolina Black Caucus said. “They feel like this is a direct attack on Black women and Black lives and Black history.”

As Policy Watch reported, Hannah-Jones, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project, was approved for tenure upon hire by faculty at UNC Hussman and the UNC administration, but the process failed upon reaching the BOT. 

“My initial reaction was shock,” Paris Miller Foushee, secretary of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP said. “But then it was like, ‘Well, yeah, you know, with what’s been going on [and] the climate in this country, and the politics — it’s reared its ugly head. And knowing the kind of body that is now in the Board of Trustees, everything lined up.” 

Tori Ekstrand, media law professor at UNC Hussman, said the BOT must give an explanation for their refusal to grant tenure — a refusal she believes to be connected to the recent bill that passed the N.C. House banning the teaching of “critical race theory” in schools.

Protester Dawna Jones (Photo: Kyle Ingram)

Protester Paris Miller Foushee (Photo: Kyle Ingram)

Associate Professor Tori Ekstrand (Photo: Kyle Ingram)

“I think it’s easy enough to connect the dots here,” she said.

Miller Foushee said this decision reflect the higher standard that Black women are held to compared to their white counterparts.

“If a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist is denied tenure, what hope do we have as other Black women and other women of color to be able to have any kind of success in historically white institutions like this?” she said. 

The protesters gathered in the Carolina Inn as the BOT’s meeting began. A few cried out “shame, shame on you,” as the board’s chair, Richard Stevens spoke. They then began singing “We shall overcome,” as the board asked them to stay silent.

Lamar Richards, UNC’s new student body president was sworn in at the meeting and gave brief remarks. Though he did not mention Hannah-Jones by name, he spoke broadly of the nation’s racial reckoning. Protesters clapped at the end of his speech, after which most were led out of the conference room.

UNC Chapel Hill Chancellor, Kevin Guskiewicz, will hold a media availability later today to discuss the issue.

UNC journalism student Kyle Ingram is an intern at NC Policy Watch.

Raleigh-Durham McDonald’s workers strike for $15 minimum wage 

Phto: Kyle Ingram

McDonald’s workers across the Raleigh-Durham area organized a strike on Wednesday as part of a national campaign to demand a $15 minimum wage and a union. 

“I have a little sister and a family that I take care of making $9.25 an hour,” Nashoun Blount, a Raleigh McDonald’s worker, said. “This is not enough, y’all. This is not enough. We have to come out here and stand and protest just to let McDonald’s know that we are serious about what we deserve in this country.” 

The workers, organizing through a variety of advocacy organizations such as the North Carolina Poor People’s Campaign, La Sembra and The Fight for 15, gathered outside the Guess Road McDonald’s to chant, display signs and deliver testimonies about the need to increase wages. 

Cars emblazoned with signs saying “Fight for 15” and “15 for NC” drove around the store’s parking lot, honking in support of the speakers and joining in chants of “We work. We sweat. Put 15 on our checks.” 

The strike, which occurred in 15 cities across the country, comes the day before McDonald’s holds its annual shareholder’s meeting. Employees hope to draw attention to the fact that McDonald’s made $5 billion in profit during the pandemic, while never raising wages for its American employees. 

 “They gave it to their shareholders instead of giving us raises,” Precious Cole, a McDonald’s worker at the event said. “Honestly, I don’t know why they’re resisting, because they have the money — they can do it now.”

Photo: Kyle Ingram

Describing long hours with no breaks, inadequate COVID-19 protections and an unsympathetic corporate culture, speakers drew a sharp contrast between the family-friendly “best first job” image they say McDonald’s portrays, and the harsh, underpaid reality they endure at work. 

McDonald’s workers also went on strike last year in response to the company’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Workers in 20 U.S. cities protested for better working conditions, including more access to personal protective equipment. McDonald’s called it a “publicity stunt.” 

In April of this year, McDonald’s announced it will raise the minimum wage to $11 for entry-level workers and $15 for shift leaders in its corporate locations. However, this change will only affect 5 percent of their American stores, and employees say that’s not nearly enough. 

“When we lift from the bottom, everyone rises,” Ana Blackburn, a member of the N.C. Poor People’s Campaign said. “But if you live in a society where your leaders value corporations over people, while stripping workers of their dignity by denying them a living wage, then they perpetuate the systemic poverty that exists in these United States.” 

The McDonald’s corporation has not yet responded to the nationwide strikes.

Kyle Ingram is a journalism student at UNC-Chapel Hill and an intern at NC Policy Watch.