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As members of the faculty of the Department of English and Comparative Literature, we write to express our alarm about the recent denial of tenure of Nikole Hannah-Jones for an endowed Knight professorship at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media. Should the UNC Board of Trustees’ decision stand, it has implications that extend far beyond the facts of this case. We address three of those issues below.

Our first concern is about shared governance and the belief in the integrity and professionalism of the process that allows us to recruit, hire, and retain world-class scholars, researchers, and writers. The denial of tenure of Nikole Hannah-Jones has already drawn world-wide scrutiny about the fairness of that process. So far that scrutiny has played itself out in the press and on social media platforms. Of course, damage to and loss of reputation devastates people—but such damage also does incalculable harm to institutions. Decades of work to distinguish North Carolina’s extraordinary education system has been thrown into question as people pass judgment about professional decisions being made for political reasons. With public scrutiny comes the risk of formal sanctioning of the University by professional organizations such as the American Association of University Professors—as well as by the agencies that accredit UNC Chapel Hill—for “substantial noncompliance with standards of academic shared governance” (AAUP Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities).

Secondly, the censure and sanctioning of UNC for the politicization of the tenure process will prompt accreditation agencies to investigate the security of tenure at the University broadly. Tenure is a key part of the guarantee of academic freedom necessary for a wide range of work at contemporary colleges and universities. Law schools, for example, cannot be accredited without the availability of tenure for its faculties. The decision to deny tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones endangers academic freedom. If the Board’s decision stands, it signals to our peer institutions and the world at large that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill suppresses the expression, and rigorous interrogation, of dissenting points of view.

Our last, and perhaps most important concern, is for our colleagues who do research on race and the United States, and for our colleagues of color, regardless of their areas of research. If UNC denies tenure to a groundbreaking writer and thinker, a Black woman who has earned her place at the top of her profession, and a celebrated graduate of UNC itself, then why would any scholar who works on race or any scholar of color want to work at UNC Chapel Hill? Nikole Hannah-Jones is the only scholar of color to have been appointed to the prestigious Knight professorship. All previous appointees have been white. Hannah-Jones is the recipient of a Polk award, a Pulitzer Prize, and a MacArthur (“Genius”) grant, among many other honors. Yet she is the only Knight endowed chair to be offered a five-year contract. How does UNC explain this glaring discrepancy to BIPOC students and faculty who will now be all the more inclined to leave North Carolina to do their ground-breaking research at other institutions?

Her peers believe her to be the best of the best within her profession, and she is a graduate of UNC Chapel Hill. She allows students to see what one can accomplish with what one learns at UNC Chapel Hill. We urge you to extend tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones and place her in the classroom in the fall so that she may teach what she knows and that she may help educate students who will themselves change the world. Nikole Hannah-Jones’s presence will enrich all of us. Granting Nikole Hannah-Jones tenure will tell the world that UNC Chapel Hill is a strong institution that is dedicated to academic freedom, the education of the citizens of North Carolina, and the making and sharing of knowledge with the world.

Mary Floyd-Wilson, Chair and Mann Distinguished Professor

Tyler Curtain, Associate Professor

Elyse Crystall, Teaching Associate Professor

Geovani Ramírez, Postdoctoral Teaching Assistant Professor 

Florence Dore, Professor and Director of Graduate Studies

Jordynn Jack, Chi Omega Term Distinguished Professor 

Erika Lindemann, Professor Emerita

Jessica Wolfe, Marcel Bataillon Term Distinguished Professor

Karen Tucker, Teaching Assistant Professor

Sarah Boyd, Teaching Assistant Professor

David Baker, Peter G. Phialas Distinguished Professor

Joseph Viscomi, James G. Kenan Distinguished Professor

Wendy Weber, Teaching Associate Professor

Meta DuEwa Jones, Associate Professor

Jane F. Thrailkill, Bank of America Honors Term Distinguished Professor

Kimberly Stern, Associate Professor

María DeGuzmán, Eugene H. Falk Distinguished Professor

Jennifer Washington, Business Officer 

Gregory Flaxman, Associate Professor

Rebecka Rutledge Fisher, Associate Professor

Daniel Wallace, J. Ross MacDonald Distinguished Professor

Moira Marquis, Postdoctoral Teaching Assistant Professor

Jennifer Larson, Teaching Associate Professor 

Ross White, Teaching Assistant Professor

Soren Palmer, Teaching Assistant Professor

Reid Barbour, Roy C. Moose Distinguished Professor

Rick Warner, Associate Professor 

Joseph Fletcher, Teaching Assistant Professor

Courtney Rivard, Teaching Associate Professor

Leslie Frost, Teaching Associate Professor

Margaret O’Shaughnessey, Teaching Professor

Shayne Aaron Legassie, Associate Professor

Beverly Taylor, Professor

Martin L. Johnson, Associate Professor

Eliza Richards, Professor

Cynthia Current, Teaching Associate Professor

Jane Danielewicz, Professor Emerita

Guillermo Rodríguez-Romaguera, Teaching Assistant Professor

Tom Reinert, Associate Professor

Marsha S. Collins, Professor

Matthew Taylor, Associate Professor 

Jeanne Moskal, Professor

Heidi Kim, Associate Professor

Liz Gualtieri-Reed, Teaching Assistant Professor

Susan Irons, Teaching Professor

Todd Taylor, Eliason Distinguished Professor

Kym Weed, Teaching Assistant Professor

Daniel Anderson, Professor

Bland Simpson, Kenan Distinguished Professor 

Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Walker Percy Fellow/Associate Professor

Danielle Christmas, Delta Delta Delta Fellow, Assistant Professor

Melissa Faliveno, Kenan Visiting Writer


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