A humiliating and damaging defeat for UNC and North Carolina

The Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones declined a tenured position at her alma mater, UNC-Chapel Hill. Hannah-Jones is set to create the new Center for Journalism and Democracy at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Her decision comes as after nearly six weeks of controversy, the UNC Board of Trustees voted to approve the tenure appointment of Nikole Hannah-Jones amid nationwide criticism, protests, and threat of a federal discrimination lawsuit

The controversy over Hannah-Jones’ tenure is just the latest in a series of political and racial controversies faced by UNC, the UNC System and the Board of Governors.

  • Since taking control of the General Assembly in 2011, Republican lawmakers, with Phil Beger at the helm, have repeatedly imposed their political views on the universities across our state. The result of the Republican-led North Carolina Board of Governors and UNC-Chapel Hill’s Board of Trustees, has led to a governing body that lacks transparency, diversity and solely promotes the ideas pushed by their Republican counterparts without students or faculty in mind.
  • In the past few weeks, a wave of Black faculty and staff have announced their leave due to the persistent racial tone deafness by the university’s leadership. Multiple prominent Black scholars turned down opportunities to come to the school and students have voiced concerns and demands for accountability from UNC leaders.
  • “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,” wrote Hussman Faculty in a recent editorial. “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”.
  • A bipartisan legislation, Senate Bill 546, could mark the first step in addressing the issue of transparency and politicization of the boards’, which has led to leaders failing to meet the needs of students and faculty time and again.
  • “Students, faculty, and some North Carolina Republicans have made it clear that they are starving for change,” said NCDP Chair Bobbie Richardson. “Senate Bill 546, a bipartisan piece of legislation, is an important first step in rebuilding the trust that has been broken, but it’s painfully clear that it alone won’t be enough to repair the damage.”

Hannah-Jones’ tenure controversy not only revealed the problems plaguing UNC, but also exposed increased politicization of the University of North Carolina System. This is yet another example of the cost of having Republicans meddling and imposing their political ideologies onto institutions that strive to be havens of free thinking, transparency, equity and fairness. 

From Silent Sam to now the departure of a prominent Black journalist who is not silent about the racist currents that run through U.S. history, UNC leaders have repeatedly failed to “live up to the university’s status as the people’s university” — choosing to side with Republicans leaders over the interest of students and faculty. 

Bottom Line:

Hannah-Jones has ignited a conversation that has fallen on deaf ears by the boards and UNC system for years. With their failures laid bare, the opportunity to listen to students and faculty, and fix the long-standing problems is now. 

The boards and UNC have no excuse to shy away from a chance to serve their students and faculty in a meaningful way by ensuring there’s transparency at the center of their decisions moving forward. 

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Alanna Joyner

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