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Nikole Hannah-Jones Denied Tenure at University of North Carolina

Nikole Hannah-Jones, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer for The New York Times Magazine, was denied a tenured position at the University of North Carolina, after the university’s board of trustees took the highly unusual step of failing to approve the journalism department’s recommendation.

The decision drew criticism from faculty members on Wednesday, who said that the last two people in the position Ms. Hannah-Jones will hold were granted tenure upon their appointment.

In late April, the university announced that Ms. Hannah-Jones was being appointed to the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at U.N.C.’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media. She will start as a professor in July, while continuing to write for The Times Magazine. Instead of tenure, Ms. Hannah-Jones was offered a five-year contract as a professor, with an option for review.

In the April announcement, the dean of the journalism school, Susan King, said: “Now one of the most respected investigative journalists in America will be working with our students on projects that will move their careers forward and ignite critically important conversations.”

The hiring of Ms. Hannah-Jones, who earned a master’s degree from the university in 2003 and a MacArthur fellowship in 2017, brought a backlash from conservative groups concerned about her involvement in The Times Magazine’s 1619 Project, which was named for the year that slavery began in the colonies that would become the United States. (Ms. Hannah-Jones won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for commentary for her introductory essay.)

The 1619 Project ignited a continuing debate about the legacy of slavery, but has faced criticism from some historians over certain claims, and from conservatives who have labeled it “propaganda.” The Republican-controlled North Carolina Legislature appoints the university system’s Board of Governors, which has significant control over the university’s board of trustees.

The website NC Policy Watch reported on Wednesday that U.N.C.’s board of trustees had declined to approve Ms. Hannah-Jones’s application for tenure. A spokeswoman for the university, Joanne Peters Denny, said in a statement that “details of individual faculty hiring processes are personnel protected information.”

Ms. Hannah-Jones declined to comment. On Twitter on Wednesday evening, she wrote, “I’ve been staying off of here today, but just know I see you all and I am grateful.”

Nearly 40 faculty members from the journalism school signed an online statement on Wednesday calling for the decision to be reversed, saying the failure to grant tenure to Ms. Hannah-Jones “unfairly moves the goal posts and violates longstanding norms and established processes.” The statement added, “This failure is especially disheartening because it occurred despite the support for Hannah-Jones’s appointment as a full professor with tenure by the Hussman dean, Hussman faculty and university.”

It continued, “Hannah-Jones’s distinguished record of more than 20 years in journalism surpasses expectations for a tenured position as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism.”

Alberto Ibargüen, the president of Knight Foundation, said that while the foundation funds the Knight Chair position at U.N.C., it has no role in appointments. The agreement calls for a five-year appointment, with tenure review within that period, he said.

“It is not our place to tell U.N.C. or U.N.C./Hussman who they should appoint or give tenure to,” Mr. Ibargüen said in a statement. “It is, however, clear to us that Hannah-Jones is eminently qualified for the appointment and we would urge the trustees of the University of North Carolina to reconsider their decision within the time frame of our agreement.”

Ms. Hannah-Jones’s editors voiced their support on Wednesday. “Nikole is a remarkable investigative journalist whose work has helped change the national conversation about race,” said Dean Baquet, executive editor of The New York Times.

Jake Silverstein, editor of The Times Magazine, strongly defended her and her work.

“Nikole’s journalism, whether she’s writing about school segregation or American history, has always been bold, unflinching and dedicated to telling uncomfortable truths that some people just don’t want to hear,” Mr. Silverstein said. “It doesn’t always make her popular, but it’s part of why hers is a necessary voice.”

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