Today, we learned that Ms. Nikole Hannah-Jones has declined a tenured appointment as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media.
While disappointed, we are not surprised. We support Ms. Hannah-Jones’s choice. The appalling treatment of one of our nation’s most-decorated journalists by her own alma mater was humiliating, inappropriate, and unjust.
We will be frank: It was racist.
Our school highly regards Ms. Hannah-Jones’s work, ability, and achievements. We regret that the top echelons of leadership at UNC-Chapel Hill failed to follow established processes, did not conduct themselves professionally and transparently, and created a crisis that shamed our institution, all because of Ms. Hannah-Jones’s honest accounting of America’s racial history. It is understandable why Ms. Hannah-Jones would take her brilliance elsewhere.
Although our school and university espouse the ideals of transparency, equity, inclusivity, and fairness, the proclamation of such lofty goals without accompanying action toward dismantling systemic racism precludes substantive progress. North Carolina’s state motto is “To be rather than to seem.” And yet, Ms. Hannah-Jones would have been only the second Black woman to earn tenure in the School of Journalism and Media, a 70-year-old institution. The first earned tenure a mere three years ago. Ms. Hannah-Jones would have been the sole Black woman at the rank of full professor level in our school; at the university level, only 3.1% of tenured faculty are Black women.
The fight for the future of our university and school continues. What has occurred over the past several months has brought long-ignored issues in our community and nation to the forefront, but it has done so at the expense of the morale and well-being of students, staff and faculty, especially those who are BIPOC. We offer our unconditional support for the many who, like Ms. Hannah-Jones, have chosen to stay away or leave rather than serve an institution that repeatedly devalues, disregards, and degrades their perspectives, experiences, and contributions.
We offer our appreciation to Ms. Hannah-Jones for igniting this conversation, as well as our profound apology for what she has endured. It will not be in vain. The School of Journalism and Media is already working toward a full and transparent accounting of what transpired over the course of Ms. Hannah-Jones’ hire. We are reestablishing our autonomy, clarifying our values, and will demonstrate a model of faculty governance guided by diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.
We are grateful to the many members of our university, academic, professional, and Chapel Hill communities for their support. We are equally thankful for the students and alumni whose words and actions reflect the best of our school. We strive to live up to your ideals, and will continue to fight to make UNC a university for all people.
Signatories (in alphabetical order):
Deb Aikat, Associate Professor
Andy Bechtel, Associate Professor
Lois Boynton, Associate Professor
Stephanie W. Brown, Park Library Director
Francesca R. Dillman Carpentier, W. Horace Carter Distinguished Professor
Bill Cokas, Adjunct Instructor
Paul Cuadros, Associate Professor
Julie Dixon, Professor of the Practice
Tori Smith Ekstrand, Associate Professor, Caroline H. and Thomas S. Royster Distinguished Professor, UNC Graduate School
Jay Eubank, Director of Career Services
Deen Freelon, Associate Professor
Livis Freeman Jr., Teaching Assistant Professor
Barbara Friedman, Associate Professor
Rhonda Gibson, James H. Shumaker Term Professor
Elia Grahl, Undergraduate Hub Coordinator
Angelia Herrin, Adjunct Instructor
Angelena King, Special Funding Manager
Daniel Kreiss, Edgar Thomas Cato Distinguished Professor
Allison Lazard, E. Reese Felts Jr. Distinguished Associate Professor
Tom Linden, Glaxo Wellcome Distinguished Professor of Medical Journalism
Trevy A. McDonald, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Julian W. Scheer Term Associate Professor
Shannon C. McGregor, Assistant Professor
Lee McGuigan, Assistant Professor
Erin Siegal McIntyre, Assistant Professor
Lee Meredith, Adjunct Instructor
Terence Oliver, Walter Spearman Distinguished Professor
Seth M. Noar, James Howard and Hallie McLean Parker Distinguished Professor
Erica Beshears Perel, Director of Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media
Liana Pinner, Director of Global, Immersive and Professional Programs
Tamara Rice, Adjunct Instructor
Tricia Robinson, Student Records Assistant
John Robinson, Stembler Professional in Residence
Laura Ruel, Associate Professor
Kate Sheppard, Teaching Associate Professor
Jenn Sipe, Assistant Director of Career Services
Ryan Thornburg, Associate Professor
Matt White, Adjunct Instructor
Barbara Wiedemann, Communications Strategist