According to a new report, the University of North Carolina, which had planned to offer tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones, the creator of the harshly-criticized 1619 Project, has instead chosen to offer her a five-year term as a professor starting July 1, with the option of being reviewed for tenure.
UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media had made the offer of tenure to Hannah-Jones, according to NCPolicyWatch. The school offered the position of Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism. After the decision not to offer a tenured position, Susan King, dean of UNC Hussman, complained, “It’s disappointing, it’s not what we wanted and I am afraid it will have a chilling effect.”
NCPolicyWatch reported that the process of offering Hannah-Jones tenure passed easily through various steps until the decision reached the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees, which “reviews and approves tenure applications,” NCPolicyWatch stated. The board eschewed giving approval for the prospective tenure.
“Not all Knight Chair professors are tenured,” NCPolicyWatch noted, adding, “But since UNC began working with the foundation in 1980, all of those teaching at the flagship Chapel Hill campus have been. Fixed-term positions, like the one now being offered to Hannah-Jones, do not need board approval.”
A UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees member told Policy Watch, “This is a very political thing. 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.”
NCPolicyWatch seemingly attributed the failure of the university to grant tenure to “conservative groups” with “direct ties to the Republican-dominated UNC Board of Governors.” The aforementioned Board of Trustees member said that conservative interests would prefer that every person hired to the faculty be vetted by each school’s board of trustees. The member said, “This is a high profile hiring decision and the last thing anyone should want is us going to the Board of Governors with this and they disagree. That is not going to be good for anybody. That is when negative things are going to happen.”
King said of Hannah-Jones, “She represents the best of our alumni and the best of the business. 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.” She added, “Our job is to expose our students to the great issues of our time. This is a fraught time and a time of racial reckoning.”
The 1619 Project has come under withering criticism for its perspective on American history. Many historians have questioned its accuracy and its attempt to undermine the salutary and historic effects of the American founding. Among them is James McPherson, professor emeritus of history at Princeton University, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Battle Cry of Freedom,” widely regarded as the authoritative account of the Civil War.
He stated: “I was disturbed by what seemed like a very unbalanced, one-sided account, which lacked context and perspective on the complexity of slavery, which was clearly, obviously, not an exclusively American institution, but existed throughout history.”
MacPherson said of Hannah-Jones’ statement in her essay that “anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country,” “the idea that racism is a permanent condition, well that’s just not true. And it also doesn’t account for the countervailing tendencies in American history as well. Because opposition to slavery, and opposition to racism, has also been an important theme in American history.”
Gordon Wood, professor emeritus at Brown University and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “The Radicalism of the American Revolution,” as well as “Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789–1815,” and many books and articles on the colonial period and the American Revolution, was asked about The 1619 Project and Hannah-Jones’ essay. Wood stated:
I read the first essay by Nikole Hannah-Jones, which alleges that the Revolution occurred primarily because of the Americans’ desire to save their slaves. She claims the British were on the warpath against the slave trade and slavery and that rebellion was the only hope for American slavery. This made the American Revolution out to be like the Civil War, where the South seceded to save and protect slavery, and that the Americans 70 years earlier revolted to protect their institution of slavery. I just couldn’t believe this.
I was surprised, as many other people were, by the scope of this thing, especially since it’s going to become the basis for high school education and has the authority of the New York Times behind it, and yet it is so wrong in so many ways.
This article has been revised for clarity.