Founder of 1619 Project Loses Tenure at UNC, Critics of Decision Don't Know Why

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Posted: May 19, 2021 6:30 PM
Founder of 1619 Project Loses Tenure at UNC, Critics of Decision Don't Know Why

Source: Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File

Pulitzer winner Nikole Hannah-Jones, the founder of the historically inaccurate "1619 Project," will not be offered tenure at UNC-Chapel Hill, NC Policy Watch reported. "Instead, she will start July 1 for a fixed five-year term as Professor of the Practice, with the option of being reviewed for tenure at the end of that time period," the report from Joe Killian and Kyle Ingram reads. 

The New York Times' 1619 Project has been in the news quite a bit lately, especially for its controversial nature at the federal and local level. Therefore, it's a bit puzzling that the decision would confuse some to the extent that it has: 

“It’s disappointing, it’s not what we wanted and I am afraid it will have a chilling effect,” said Susan King, dean of UNC Hussman. 

...

“I’m not sure why and I’m not sure if that’s ever happened before,” King said.

While the report mentions that the decision is "a departure from the school's usual practice," it did acknowledge that "Not all Knight Chair professors are tenured. But since UNC began working with the foundation in 1980, all of those teaching at the flagship Chapel Hill campus has been. Fixed-term positions, like the one now being offered to Hannah-Jones, do not need board approval." 

A member of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees spoke to NC Policy Watch about the decision, which, although a matter of "politics," appears to have been done correctly and due to input: 

The board member, who had direct knowledge of the board’s conversations about Hannah-Jones, asked not to be identified so that they could discuss a confidential personnel process. “It’s maybe not a solution that is going to please everyone. Maybe it won’t please anyone. But if this was going to happen, this was the way to get it done.”

The board member had one word for the roadblock to Hannah-Jones gaining tenure.

“Politics,” the board member said.

“This is a very political thing,” the trustee said. “The university and the board of trustees and the Board of Governors and the legislature have all been getting pressure since this thing was first announced last month. There have been people writing letters and making calls, for and against. But I will leave it to you which is carrying more weight.”

Additional comments from Dean King make her seem all the more ignorant about how fraught with apt criticism the 1619 Project is. 

“She represents the best of our alumni and the best of the business,” King said. “I don’t want to get into a food fight. I want to make sure that our students have the opportunity to have someone of her caliber here and to learn from her. I think our faculty do as well. I realize this is a fraught era in the state. When I heard that the chancellor and the provost wanted to move to this, it was better than having a battle royale about the theory of academic freedom.”

Hannah-Jones was on the school’s radar as a potential faculty member before the publication of “The 1619 Project,” King said. But the project is part of Hannah-Jones’s long career of reporting powerfully on race.

“Our job is to expose our students to the great issues of our time,” King said. “This is a fraught time and a time of racial reckoning.”

If their "job is to expose... students to the great issues of our time," it would surely be more appropriate to do so through projects much less one-sided and unfairly and inaccurately critical of our nation's founding. 

Yamiche Alcindor also expressed her shock, to which Twitter quickly reacted.