August 5 Crucial Conversation: Theodore Johnson on his new book, “When the Stars Begin to Fall”

Join us Thursday, August 5 at 2:00 p.m. for a very special (and virtual) Crucial Conversation:

Author, scholar, and former U.S. Navy Commander Theodore Johnson, discusses his new book, When the Stars Begin to Fall: Overcoming Racism and Renewing the Promise of America

Click here to register.

“Racism is an existential threat to America,” Theodore Johnson declares at the start of his profound and exhilarating book, When the Stars Begin to Fall: Overcoming Racism and Renewing the Promise of America. It is a refutation of the American Promise enshrined in our Constitution that all men and women are inherently equal. And yet racism continues to corrode our society. If we cannot overcome it, Johnson argues, while the United States will remain as a geopolitical entity, the promise that made America unique on Earth will have died.

When the Stars Begin to Fall makes a compelling, ambitious case for a pathway to the national solidarity necessary to mitigate racism. Weaving memories of his own and his family’s multi-generational experiences with racism, alongside strands of history, into his elegant narrative, Johnson posits that a blueprint for national solidarity can be found in the exceptional citizenship long practiced in Black America.

Join us for a special Q&A with the author.

Theodore Johnson is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Fellows Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, where he undertakes research on race, politics, and American identity. Prior to joining the Brennan Center, he was a National Fellow at New America and a Commander in the United States Navy, serving for twenty years in a variety of positions, including as a White House Fellow in the first Obama administration and as speechwriter to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Click here to register.

Don’t miss this very special event.

When: Thursday August 5 at 2:00 p.m.

Where: Online; pre-register from the comfort of your home or office.

Suggested contribution: $10 (click here to support NC Policy Watch)

Questions?? Contact Rob Schofield at 919-861-2065 or [email protected]

Report: Black patients get more bed sores and infections than white patients at the same hospital

Image: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Black patients are more likely to suffer hospital injuries such as bed sores and post-surgery health problems than are white patients treated at the same hospital.

An Urban Institute report released Tuesday on disproportionate rates of injury among Black patients is based on discharge records from hospitals in 26 states including North Carolina. The Urban Institute is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC.

The study looked at differences in seven surgery-related complications and four general safety measures. Black patients fared worse for four of the seven surgery-related complications and two of the four general indicators.

“Even when admitted to the same hospital, Black patients experience higher rates of hospital acquired injuries or illnesses occurring during or shortly after surgical procedures relative to white patients,” the report says.

Compared to white patients, Black patients had statistically significant higher rates of respiratory failure after surgery, sepsis, dangerous blood clots in leg veins or lung arteries, and bleeding. Black patients were 18% more likely to go into respiratory failure after surgery and 27% more likely to develop sepsis than white patients treated at the same hospitals.

Black patients were more likely to get bed sores and blood-stream infections related to catheters that reach close to or go inside the heart.

The analysis is based on 2017 data and does not include information from some big states, including Texas, New York, or California.

Racism is at the root of these disparities, said Anuj Gangopadhyaya, the report’s author.

“There’s no way that it’s not,” he said. “The question is, who is the actor? This is a symptom not of one or a handful of actors. It’s a system of racism executed across institutions, across providers, and across payers.”

Other researchers have found that Black children are more likely than white children to die after major surgery. Black patients are more likely to have surgery at hospitals that have higher mortality rates and are located in segregated areas.

The latest Urban Institute report found disparities in how Black and white patients fared when they used the same type of insurance. And hospitals’ overall patient demographics didn’t matter. Black patients had higher rates of surgery-related health problems in hospitals that treated larger shares of Black patients, hospitals that treated smaller shares of Black patients, and in hospitals that had higher proportions of patients with private insurance.

Insurers could play a part in reducing racial disparities, Gangopadhyaya said in an interview.

The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has a pay-for-performance program that links Medicare payments to hospital quality. It reduces payments to hospitals with low performance based in part on how often their patients get infections.

Gangopadhyaya said insurers could develop policies that more directly address racial inequities.

Some data on patient outcomes at specific hospitals is publicly available, but information comparing outcomes for patients of different races isn’t easy to find, Gangopadhyaya said.

“If I’m a Black patient, what are the measures for Black patients?” he said. “It’s hard to determine where quality of care is good for patients that look like you or are insured like you.”

Nikole Hannah-Jones on the continuing struggle of Black students, faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill

Today Nikole Hannah-Jones made it official: the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist is declining to return to her alma mater, UNC-Chapel Hill, to teach. Instead, she’ll create the new Center for Journalism and Democracy at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

At the heart of her decision: the rampant and well documented politicization of the UNC System that led the UNC Board of Trustees  to refuse to vote on her tenure application in the first place.

The controversy over Hannah-Jones’s tenure is just the latest in a series of political and racial controversies faced by the school and the UNC System. The campus now faces a wave of Black faculty and staff leaving, many of whom are citing the politicization of the system and its persistent racial tone deafness. The university has recently seen multiple prominent Black scholars turn down opportunities to come to the school and students and their families say they’ve decided against coming to Chapel Hill or made the decision to transfer in the current environment.

Nikole Hannah Jones

To begin to fix that, Hannah-Jones said, the administration and governing boards need to listen to Black students and faculty. That includes elected student leaders, the Black Student Movement and Carolina Black Caucus. They have all let the school know what needs to be done to move forward, Hannah-Jones said. But they don’t feel they’re being heard.

Over the weekend, Hannah-Jones made a trip to North Carolina specifically to meet in person with student leaders and protesters who supported her in the tenure fight. Telling them she wouldn’t be coming to the university was difficult, she said, but they understood.

“Many of them, as they have said publicly,  felt it would send the wrong message if I did come after the way the university treated me,” Hannah-Jones said.

Their fight continues, she said, and as a proud UNC alum she will remain on their side.

One of the student leaders continuing to fight for change in the new semester: Lamar Richards, student body president and member of the school’s board of trustees. Though new to the role, Richards was instrumental in forcing the board to finally take a vote on the tenure question. He petitioned for an emergency meeting of the board, rallying enough other trustees to make it happen as campus administration remained silent and some of his fellow board members were happy to leave the issue unresolved. He also calmed protesters at the tense board of trustees meeting. When no one from the board or university explained how and why the board moved into a closed session to discuss the tenure question, Richards explained the process and eased tensions as students, faculty and alumni faced off with board members.

“I’m so incredibly proud and in disbelief in some ways at the leadership of Lamar,” Hannah-Jones said. “I didn’t know Lamar until this happened. The person who has the least power on that board has operated with more courage and conviction than anyone else. The youngest member, the person with the least power was willing to stand up, call a meeting when no one else would do it and explain to students what was happening to try to deescalate when everyone in that room was supposed to be serving the students.”

In a message to the campus last week, Richards said the fight for a public vote on the question of tenure for someone as well qualified as Hannah-Jones illustrates the ongoing struggle at Carolina.

“The idea — the fact, rather — that students, faculty, staff, and alumni would have to come forward on behalf of a Black woman for simply pursuing recognition (via tenure) of her lifelong work makes clear to me one thing — racism is alive and kicking,” Richards wrote. “The idea or notion that this was simply about freedom of speech or academic freedom is false; this, my friends, is about the freedom to be Black in America.”

“In the days ahead, I am meeting with faculty, student, and staff leaders of color from across campus to strategize and gather comprehensive insights on ways to support the entire Black community here at Carolina,” Richards wrote. “Both the Chancellor and University administration are aware of this ongoing work and will have the chance for their words to match their actions by doing what is right and supporting the requests coming from these collective meetings.”

In some ways, Hannah-Jones said, seeing such strong student leadership makes the difficult decision not to return to the campus a bit easier.

“Because I know there is a strong activist core that will keep fighting,” she said. “What happened to me strengthens the platform on which they do that. It verifies, in a way that shouldn’t need verification, all the things that they say they’ve experienced on campus.”

Black students are struggling at Chapel Hill and aren’t getting the support they need from leadership, Hannah-Jones said. After decades of struggle to change the institution without support from its leaders, she said, it is not surprising some students and faculty are choosing to leave. Her own decision to join perhaps the most prestigious of historically black colleges and universities rather than return to Chapel Hill is part of a piece with decisions Black students and faculty are making, she said.

“I do think it’s important to show that we don’t necessarily need these institutions,” Hannah-Jones said. “We can walk away if we’re not treated the way we deserve to be treated. That’s also an important message to send to students.”


What, to the slave, is the Fourth of July? | Frederick Douglass

[Editor’s note: The following is excerpted from a speech regarding the meaning of the Fourth of July delivered by the abolitionist and advocate Frederick Douglass in Rochester, N.Y., July 5, 1852.]

… Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions! Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and delightful.

… But, such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. — The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me… This Fourth of July is yours, not mine…

… My subject, then fellow-citizens, is AMERICAN SLAVERY. I shall see, this day, and its popular characteristics, from the slave’s point of view. Standing, there, identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible, which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery — the great sin and shame of America! “I will not equivocate; I will not excuse;” I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just.

But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say, it is just in this circumstance that you and your brother abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, and denounce less, would you persuade more, and rebuke less, your cause would be much more likely to succeed. But, I submit, where all is plain there is nothing to be argued. What point in the anti-slavery creed would you have me argue? On what branch of the subject do the people of this country need light?

… At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. Read more

PW Exclusive: Nikole Hannah-Jones will not join UNC-Chapel Hill faculty without tenure

Nikole Hannah-Jones will not join the faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill without tenure, according to a letter from her legal team to the university this week.

According to the letter, Hannah-Jones will not begin her position as Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism on July 1, as scheduled, and will not take the position without tenure.

The letter makes clear that Hannah-Jones has not withdrawn her application for tenure and does not intend to do so.

As Policy Watch has reported, the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees declined to vote on tenure for Hannah-Jones, acclaimed journalist and creator of “The 1619 Project,” when she was recruited for the position. She was then offered a five-year fixed-term contract — a striking departure from precedent. Previous Knight Chairs at UNC, who are by definition media professionals rather than career academics, have been hired with tenure.

Nikole Hannah-Jones (Bell Tower photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)S

Sources on the board told Policy Watch trustees had political objections to Hannah-Jones’s work and faced pressure from conservatives to prevent her hire, with or without tenure. Among the influential voices warning against the hire was Walter Hussman, the Arkansas media magnate whose $25 million donation to the journalism school led to it being named for him.

Trustees described the five-year contract as a “work-around” negotiated to prevent the tenure vote from coming to the board, where university leaders expected a political fight over Hannah-Jones’s work, much of which deals with history and race in America.

In their letter, Hannah-Jones’s legal team argues information was withheld from her when she signed her fixed-term contract with the school.

Since signing the fixed-term contract, Ms. Hannah-Jones has come to learn that political interference and influence from a powerful donor contributed to the Board of Trustees’ failure to consider her tenure application,” they wrote. “In light of this information, Ms. Hannah-Jones cannot trust that the University would consider her tenure application in good faith during the period of the fixed-term contract. Such good faith consideration for tenure was understood to be an essential element of the fixed-term contract when Ms. Hannah-Jones agreed to enter into it. In light of the information which has come to her attention since that time, she cannot begin employment with the University without the protection and security of tenure.”

The letter also lays out the likely legal thrust of Hannah-Jones’s argument in a threatened federal lawsuit over the board’s decision not to consider her for tenure.

The inferior terms of employment offered to Ms. Hannah-Jones in the fixed-term contract resulted from viewpoint discrimination in violation of the freedom of speech and expression, secured by the United States and North Carolina Constitution; race and sex discrimination and retaliation in violation of federal and North Carolina state law; unlawful political influence in violation of North Carolina state law; and other unlawful grounds,” her legal team wrote. “Under these circumstances, any appointment of Ms. Hannah-Jones without tenure is unacceptable.”

Controversy over the board’s failure to hold a tenure vote led to widespread condemnation from students, faculty, alumni and some of the school’s largest donors and funding partners.

The faculty tenure committee re-submitted Hannah-Jones’s tenure application to the board with the support of the school’s provost and Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz. But despite  a looming federal discrimination lawsuit from Hannah-Jones, the board has taken no action.

Two members of the board of trustees spoke with Policy Watch Tuesday, requesting that their names be withheld so that they could discuss confidential personnel matters. Both said they have not heard anything about a vote of the full board on the tenure issue. That frustrates members of the board who would like to see an up-or-down vote on the issue as pressure mounts on the school from students, faculty, alumni and funders.

Last week the Carolina Black Caucus reported 70 percent of its members said they are considering leaving the university.

The school has lost multiple high profile Black recruits, faculty and staff members since the controversy began. Professors are also reporting they have spoken with Black students at the undergraduate and graduate level who have decided not to return to the university as a result of the university’s actions in the Hannah-Jones case.

“At the end of the month the tenure of some board members is up and some new ones are going to come onto the board,” one trustee said. “I think they just want to let that happen, so they don’t have to deal with it. But I think that strategy could cost the school a good new faculty member, it is costing us faculty members right now who are leaving over all of this, and it is damaging the reputation of the school.”

Another trustee said some on the board and in leadership at the UNC System level seemed to think “they could have their cake and eat it too” by having Hannah-Jones begin in July without tenure. They could then argue that she had already begun teaching at the school and so the controversy was overblown, the trustee said. While avoiding public discussion of the controversy and his part in it, UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz has repeatedly said he is glad Hannah-Jones will begin at the school July 1.

“But this letter makes it clear she’s not going to begin the job that way and give them what they want on that,” the trustee said. “They want her to take the job under different and lesser conditions than her white predecessors did, and I think continuing to push that is dangerous for the university’s reputation and it’s a bad legal strategy. If we don’t deal with this sooner rather than later we are going to be fighting a legal fight over it while we have Black students and faculty leaving the university in large numbers, which we are already seeing. How do we think we are going to recruit top students and faculty under these conditions?”

On Saturday Mimi Chapman, chair of the school’s faculty, shared an open letter to the Carolina community. In the letter she confirmed, through her own conversations with school administration, much of the reporting on the controversy the Board of Trustees and Guskiewicz have either not addressed publicly or have contradicted without evidence since Policy Watch first reported the board’s inaction on Hannah-Jones’s tenure.

“Despite calls for action from the Faculty Executive Committee, from individual faculty members, from the Council of Chairs, from alumnae, from donors, and from funders to act without delay on the tenure case of Nikole Hannah-Jones, thus far, the Board of Trustees, to which our University is entrusted, has remained stubbornly silent,” Chapman said. “The reputational threat to our University grows by the day and we remain in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.”

“I ask that the campus community speak loudly and with one voice,” Chapman wrote in the open letter. “If you or your department or school has not yet spoken out, now is the time to do so. We need every dean and every department chair on this campus to make a statement, send it to the BOT, and put it on your websites; we need student groups, particularly those that espouse free speech and thought diversity to speak up; athletes and coaches, we need you to take a stand; and concerned citizens who want your children’s degrees from UNC to continue to stand for excellence, please call your representatives and write to your local newspapers. Make sure that all such communications are conveyed to the Board of Trustees.”

“If outside bodies, in this case the BOT, without subject matter expertise are the arbiters of faculty scholarship, all faculty members run the risk of being punished for work that questions the status quo, threatens some outside interest, or makes people uncomfortable,” Chapman wrote. “Such a path takes us back to times when scholars from Socrates to Galileo were punished for their ideas. That is a path where light and liberty die. Don’t let it. Use your voice. Keep going. Stand strong.”

Departments across the university have responded to Chapman’s call. Student Body President Lamar Richards, who also serves as a member of the board of trustees, has strongly and publicly advocated for the board to vote on tenure for Hannah-Jones. On Wednesday evening he will hold the first meeting of the Campus President’s Council, where the Hannah-Jones controversy is expected to be discussed. Guskiewicz has been invited to that meeting.

The Black Student Movement is promoting a student rally on the issue outside the campus’s South Building, home to its administrative offices, on Friday.

Read the full letter from Hannah-Jones’s legal team below.