Hussman faculty: Racism and reactionary politics kept Nikole Hannah-Jones from joining UNC

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):

  1. Deb Aikat, Associate Professor

  2. Andy Bechtel, Associate Professor

  3. Lois Boynton, Associate Professor

  4. Stephanie W. Brown, Park Library Director

  5. Francesca R. Dillman Carpentier, W. Horace Carter Distinguished Professor

  6. Bill Cokas, Adjunct Instructor

  7. Paul Cuadros, Associate Professor

  8. Julie Dixon, Professor of the Practice

  9. Tori Smith Ekstrand, Associate Professor, Caroline H. and Thomas S. Royster Distinguished Professor, UNC Graduate School

  10. Jay Eubank, Director of Career Services

  11. Deen Freelon, Associate Professor

  12. Livis Freeman Jr., Teaching Assistant Professor

  13. Barbara Friedman, Associate Professor

  14. Rhonda Gibson, James H. Shumaker Term Professor

  15. Elia Grahl, Undergraduate Hub Coordinator

  16. Angelia Herrin, Adjunct Instructor

  17. Angelena King, Special Funding Manager

  18. Daniel Kreiss, Edgar Thomas Cato Distinguished Professor

  19. Allison Lazard, E. Reese Felts Jr. Distinguished Associate Professor

  20. Tom Linden, Glaxo Wellcome Distinguished Professor of Medical Journalism

  21. Trevy A. McDonald, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Julian W. Scheer Term Associate Professor

  22. Shannon C. McGregor, Assistant Professor

  23. Lee McGuigan, Assistant Professor

  24. Erin Siegal McIntyre, Assistant Professor

  25. Lee Meredith, Adjunct Instructor

  26. Terence Oliver, Walter Spearman Distinguished Professor

  27. Seth M. Noar, James Howard and Hallie McLean Parker Distinguished Professor

  28. Erica Beshears Perel, Director of Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media

  29. Liana Pinner, Director of Global, Immersive and Professional Programs

  30. Tamara Rice, Adjunct Instructor

  31. Tricia Robinson, Student Records Assistant

  32. John Robinson, Stembler Professional in Residence

  33. Laura Ruel, Associate Professor

  34. Kate Sheppard, Teaching Associate Professor

  35. Jenn Sipe, Assistant Director of Career Services

  36. Ryan Thornburg, Associate Professor

  37. Matt White, Adjunct Instructor

  38. Barbara Wiedemann, Communications Strategist