Monday, December 6, 2021

Nikole Hannah-Jones Loses UNC Tenure Offer After Conservative Criticism of Her ‘1619 Project’

Nikole Hannah-Jones
Nikole Hannah-Jones (Photo: James Estrin/The New York Times )

*The National Association of Black Journalists released a statement Thursday in response to Nikole Hannah-Jones, the founder of the 1619 Project, losing her tenure offer at her alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Per TheWrap, the university previously announced Hannah-Jones would teach in the Knight Chair position, which comes with the expectation of tenure. The reversal came after racist conservatives whined about the “1619 Project,” which is an examination of slavery in America and how it shaped nearly all aspects of society. According to NC Policy Watch, the University of North Carolina’s board of trustees decided not to approve Hannah-Jones’ tenure. She is instead under consideration for a fixed five-year contract as a professor of practice, according to reports. 

Susan King, dean of the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, reportedly called the decision “disappointing” and said it would create a “chilling effect.” 

READ MORE: Oprah Teams with Hulu to Produce ‘1619 Project’ Docuseries

King said Hannah-Jones “represents the best of our alumni and the best of the business.” She added: “I don’t want to get into a food fight. I want to make sure that our students have the opportunity to have someone of her caliber here and to learn from her. I think our faculty do as well. I realize this is a fraught era in the state. When I heard that the chancellor and the provost wanted to move to this, it was better than having a battle royale about the theory of academic freedom.”

The NABJ, which honored Hannah-Jones with its Journalist of the Year award in 2015, noted that the denial of tenure was due to conservative opposition to her “1619 Project.”

“NABJ has reached out to the university to determine their reason for failing to grant tenure to Nikole,” NABJ president Dorothy Tucker said in the statement. “If the speculations are true, then we denounce any decision to deny a distinguished journalist tenure because she simply did her job by reporting facts about slavery in America. The university would be sending a message to its students that it does not support press freedom and that seeking the truth and reporting it is not a pillar it believes should be a part of our profession, and that the work of Black journalists, or any journalist, to expose the ills of slavery and its impact on America is unmerited.”

One of the board members admitted that “politics” motivated its decision. 

“UNC’s hiring Hannah-Jones signals a degradation of journalistic standards, from one in which ethics and truth are prized to one in which a writer’s work is judged according to whether it serves a preferred political agenda,” Jay Schalin of the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal noted in an op-ed earlier this month. 

He added that Hannah-Jones’ work was “less journalism than an outpouring of emotions. The crown jewel of her career – leading a rewriting of the nation’s history called ‘The 1619 Project’ – has been attacked and ridiculed by historians of all stripes and persuasions as unfactual and biased.”

He quoted historian Sean Wilentz in arguing: “To teach children that the American Revolution was fought in part to secure slavery would be giving a fundamental misunderstanding not only of what the American Revolution was all about but what America stood for and has stood for since the Founding.”

Ny MaGee
Ny MaGee is an entertainment reporter with over 15 years of experience working in the film industry in areas including production and post-production, marketing, distribution, and acquisitions. She has worked for legendary film producer Roger Corman, Quentin Tarantino's production team at Miramax, the late Larry Flynt, MTV/ VH1, Hallmark Channel, Paramount, Jim Henson Co., Parade Magazine, and various LA-based companies representing above-the-line talent.

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