What’s next for UNC after controversy over Nikole Hannah-Jones’ tenure?

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Hello. It’s Friday.

North Carolina’s General Assembly had a brief recess in lawmaking this week, so the state legislative news has been a bit slow.

In the meantime, though, another entity has been front and center: UNC-Chapel Hill.

This week marked what could be the end of a lengthy dispute surrounding the school’s failure to initially grant tenure to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones. In an interview Tuesday with “CBS This Morning,” Hannah-Jones announced that she would not be accepting the job after all, though the UNC-CH Board of Trustees voted last week to grant her tenure.

Instead, Hannah-Jones is accepting a job at Howard University, where she’ll be the inaugural Knight Chair in Race and Reporting.

Here’s why the story of this controversy isn’t quite over yet, though:

  • In late May, Hannah-Jones sent a letter to North Carolina lawmakers indicating she was considering filing a federal discrimination lawsuit against UNC-CH if the Board of Trustees did not grant her tenure. Though the board ultimately did, Hannah-Jones told The News & Observer a lawsuit isn’t off the table.

  • UNC-CH’s acting police chief is getting heat for how he handled students protesting at the June 30 meeting where trustees voted to give Hannah-Jones tenure. Black student leaders have accused the acting chief, Rahsheem Holland, of assault, and are demanding he be fired.

  • It’s still unclear how the last several weeks of controversy will impact the Board of Trustees moving forward. How will the debate over Hannah-Jones’ tenure factor into the dynamics of the board with six new trustees being added last week? Will the new board face more community and student pressure, now that it’s been thrust into the national spotlight? As my colleagues Kate Murphy and Martha Quillin reported, the trustees have a renewed chance to hear students out.

  • UNC-CH Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz has faced broad criticism in recent weeks, including from Republican Senate leader Phil Berger. Where will Guskiewicz go from here?

  • Speaking of Berger, it’s still possible top North Carolina Republican lawmakers could weigh in on the controversy when they return to Raleigh next week.

  • And the final question that remains unanswered: Who will be UNC’s next Knight Chair since Hannah-Jones turned it down?

For more UNC-CH insight, listen to this week’s closer look episode, where I talk with higher education reporter Kate Murphy about the last few weeks of news.

2022 WATCH

Former prosecutor Jason Minnicozzi is running for North Carolina’s 7th District Congressional race, WECT reports. Running as a Democrat, Minnicozzi is currently a New Hanover County public defender and launched his campaign this week, saying he spent his career in service to the people of North Carolina.

Some high-profile North Carolina U.S. Senate candidates released their fundraising totals for the quarter. Here’s where they stand.



  • Who are the players pushing medical marijuana legislation in North Carolina? Will Doran gives us a rundown.

  • More changes are underway in Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration, Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan reports.

  • Four NC Senate Democrats broke with their party and voted with Republicans in favor of the budget, revealing a fracture in Democrats’ philosophy on how to deal with the party controlling the state legislature, I reported.

  • A long-standing legislative proposal to give college athletes a tuition break made its way into the Senate’s 427-page budget bill, Colin Campbell reports.

  • The State Board of Education voted 6-5, along party lines, to approve controversial social studies guidance documents, but standards could be revised again in August, T. Keung Hui reports.

  • North Carolina, along with 36 other states, is suing Google for antitrust violations in a case that could potentially bring back millions to the state and consumers, Will Doran and Zachary Eanes report.

Don’t forget: Listen and subscribe to our podcast wherever you usually like to listen. (Pandora, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, Amazon Music, Megaphone.)

Thanks for reading. See you next week.

— Lucille Sherman, state government reporter for The News & Observer. Email me at lsherman@newsobserver.com.

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