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SPJ urges UNC to reconsider Nikole Hannah-Jones for tenured position


Matthew T. Hall, SPJ National President, 619-987-7786, mhall@spj.org
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Director of Communications and Marketing, 317-361-4134, jroyer@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS — The Society of Professional Journalists urges the Board of Trustees of the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill to reconsider its decision to deny Nikole Hannah-Jones a tenured professorship.

Hannah-Jones, a 2020 SPJ Fellow of the Society, was named the UNC Hussman School of Media and Journalism Knight Chair, a position historically offered with tenure to prominent journalists, who typically may not possess traditional academic credentials. But bowing to political pressure, the school changed its plan to offer her tenure. Instead, she will start July 1 for a fixed five-year term as Professor of Practice, with the option of being reviewed for tenure at the end of that time period.

“SPJ was proud last year to recognize Nikole Hannah-Jones as an SPJ Fellow, our highest honor in the profession. UNC should be no less proud to have her as its Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism,” said Matthew T. Hall, SPJ national president. “SPJ urges the university to offer her tenure so it can demonstrate that it is treating her the same way it treated two people in the position before her, by which I mean treating her with respect.”

“The UNC trustees’ decision in the face of political pressure is not just disrespectful to Ms. Hannah-Jones and devaluing of the importance of a free press,” said Bey-Ling Sha, board member and dean of the College of Communications at California State University, Fullerton. “It’s also dangerously dismissive of the academic freedom of UNC’s faculty, who rightfully voted to recommend that tenure be granted to their newly named Knight Chair.”

According to The New York Times, which employs Hannah-Jones as a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine, “her hiring brought a backlash from conservatives concerned about her involvement in The Times Magazine’s 1619 Project, which examined the legacy of slavery in America.” The 1619 Project is a long-form journalism project led and developed by Hannah-Jones, with writers from The New York Times and The New York Times Magazine.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that the trustee who heads the subcommittee that oversees tenure applications, Charles Duckett, decided in January to postpone the review of Hannah-Jones’s tenure submission because her background is non-academic.

Hannah-Jones is an acclaimed Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has done outstanding work throughout her career. We stand with the UNC-Chapel Hill journalism faculty, the National Association of Black Journalists and other journalism organizations in urging the UNC Board of Trustees to appoint Hannah-Jones as the Knight Chair with the tenure that she has earned.

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