Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones won’t join the University of North Carolina faculty next month unless she is granted tenure, her attorneys declared Wednesday.
Hannah-Jones, creator of The New York Times’ acclaimed “1619 Project,” was set to begin a five-year contract teaching at the university on July 1 as a Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism. But her lawyers said in a letter first published by NC Policy Watch that they believed “political interference and influence” had resulted in the school’s failure to grant her tenure.
“Ms. Hannah-Jones cannot trust that the University would consider her tenure application in good faith during the period of the fixed-term contract,” her lawyers wrote. They added: “She cannot begin employment with the University without the protection and security of tenure.”
The declaration will likely reignite the controversy over her position, which was first announced in April. The role traditionally comes as a coveted tenured position, but UNC said last month it would be on contract instead with an option for review, against the recommendation of the school’s journalism faculty and tenure committee.
Hannah-Jones, who earned a Master’s from UNC and won a Pulitzer Prize for her work on the “1619 Project,” said last month she was considering filing a federal lawsuit for discrimination. UNC’s board, however, has not taken any action on her tenure application.
She said last month that she didn’t want to draw the university into a political scandal, but said she felt “obligated” to challenge the tenure decision.
“I had no desire to bring turmoil or a political firestorm to the university that I love, but I am obligated to fight back against a wave of anti-democratic suppression that seeks to prohibit the free exchange of ideas, silence Black voices and chill free speech,” she said in a statement at the time.
The controversy has already had lasting impacts at UNC. Earlier this month, renowned chemist Lisa Jones withdrew her candidacy for a role at the school over its treatment of Hannah-Jones.
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