Lawyers Claim Nikole Hannah-Jones Won't Join UNC Faculty Without Tenure

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 19: Nikole Hannah-Jones attends the "Neutral Ground" premiere during the 2021 Tribeca Festival at Pier 76 on June 19, 2021 in New York City. Photo: Monica Schipper/Getty Images for Tribeca Festival

It appears that Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones will not join the faculty at the University of North Carolina. In a letter sent to that the university on Monday, lawyers indicated that Hannah-Jones cannot accept the offer to become the Knight Chair In Race And Investigative Journalism without receiving tenure.

“Since signing the fixed-term contract, Ms. Hannah-Jones has come to learn that political interference and influence from a powerful donor contributed to the Board of Trustees’ failure to consider her tenure application,” lawyers representing Nikole Hannah-Jones stated.

“In light of this information, Ms. Hannah-Jones cannot trust that the University would consider her tenure application in good faith during the period of the fixed-term contract. Such good faith consideration for tenure was understood to be an essential element of the fixed-term contract when Ms. Hannah-Jones agreed to enter into it. In light of the information which has come to her attention since that time, she cannot begin employment with the University without the protection and security of tenure.”

Hannah-Jones was presented with the opportunity to become the Knight Chair a few months ago. The position puts educators on the track to receive tenure, but the university claims it didn't offer her tenure because she lacked a “traditional academic-type background.” The university's decision drew ire from the student body president, faculty members and high-profile celebrities like Dwyane Wade. In spite of all of the backlash, Hannah-Jones agreed to teach two classes at the university this fall.

The tension between Hannah-Jones and the university only grew stronger when top university donor Walter Hussman Jr. openly criticized the MacArthur Fellow in an interview with NPR. The journalism school's namesake openly questioned Hannah-Jones' commitment to the "core values" of journalism at the university and criticized the critically-acclaimed 1619 Project.

"I would love to ask Nikole Hannah-Jones about the core values," Hussman said.

"I try to be open-minded. If Nikole Hannah-Jones has information, has data, has facts about how the Founding Fathers fought the Revolutionary War to protect slavery, I'd love to see them."

One day after Hussman spoke to NPR, Hannah-Jones has opted not to teach at the university because she cannot in "good faith" trust they'll even consider her for tenure. She has also hinted at filing a discrimination lawsuit against the university.

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