Nikole Hannah-Jones, the New York Times journalist who developed the magazine’s controversial “1619 Project,” will no longer join UNC-Chapel Hill’s journalism department as a tenured professor after the school’s board of trustees expressed concern about awarding tenure to someone outside of academia, according to a new report.
Instead, Hannah-Jones will join the university’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media as a fixed-term “Professor of the Practice,” with the option of being reviewed for tenure within five years, according to the News & Observer. She will serve as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism.
Susan King, the dean of the journalism school, reportedly said in a message to faculty that when Hannah-Jones’ case for tenure was presented, the campus trustees did not act on it.
King said she informed that the board, which has the power to approve all tenured positions, was “worried about a non-academic entering the university with this designation.”
However, all of the university’s previous Knight Chairs have been appointed with tenure, according to the report. The role is designed to bring professionals into academia.
NC PolicyWatch first reported that the university “backed down from offering” the reporter the tenure-track position following criticism from conservatives.
Hannah-Jones’s work has been the subject of intense scrutiny. Historians have called the 1619 edition of the New York Times magazine, of which she was lead essayist, “a very unbalanced, one-sided account” and “wrong in so many ways.” Critics have called the project “not only ahistorical,” but “actually anti-historical.”
The project, a feature on slavery in the U.S. that aims to shift perceptions of American history and change what students are taught in schools, won the 2020 Pulitizer Prize for Commentary. However, after receiving scrutiny from historians and politicians, the Times issued a clarification on the project.
Jay Schalin, director of policy analysis at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, said that Hannah-Jones’ hiring “signals a degradation of journalist standards.” Meanwhile, Shannon Watkins, also from the Martin Center, called out the trustees and the UNC system for failing to keep “‘activist-scholars’ from gaining positions within the university.’”
King defended the hire: “Investigative journalists always are involved in controversies. They dig deep, and they raise questions that demand answers. Part of what they do is raise uncomfortable questions for people, institutions and systems.”’
She said she had received support from the provost and chancellor in hiring Hannah-Jones, who covers civil rights and racial injustice for the New York Times Magazine, even if it did not involve tenure.
“They stood by the school to try to find a way to bring her here,” King said. “She will help our students navigate a changing time in America at a very partisan moment.”
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