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Statement on the Board of Trustees Decision Regarding Prof. Nikole Hannah-Jones

May 27, 2021

The undersigned members of the UNC Political Science Department denounce the actions by the Board of Trustees (BOT) resulting in the appointment of Nikole Hannah-Jones to an untenured rather than a tenured position in the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media. Nikole Hannah-Jones is an award-winning journalist, having received a Peabody Award, a Pulitzer Prize, and a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant.” Since the two previous recipients of the Knight Chair received tenure at the time of their appointment, it strains credulity to suggest that the reason for the Board’s decision not to consider her tenure appointment related to her background outside of academe.

While we recognize the role that the BOT plays in the tenure and appointment process, we decry the decision not to consider her file made in this case. The faculty identified that Nikole Hannah-Jones is pursuing path-breaking research on the racial history of the United States, which is consistent with the strategic plan endorsed by the BOT to emphasize, “diversity, equity, and inclusion in teaching, research and service, and in hiring, evaluation, retention and promotion of under-represented faculty and staff.” Thus, her appointment is consistent with the goals and strategic vision of the University. Further, the decision not to act by the BOT suggest a lack of respect and due deference for the hours of scrutiny and vetting by the faculty in the school of journalism, the faculty on the Appointments, Promotion, and Tenure Committees, faculty consulted outside the university, and the Dean and Provost.

We believe that this decision makes a mockery of the University’s strategic plan to promote faculty diversity and inclusive excellence at UNC-Chapel Hill. Decisions such as this harm the University’s reputation throughout all academic disciplines. They also raise questions about whether the University can be a welcoming place to have difficult conversations about race and history.

The Political Science Department is committed to a vision of the University where all members of the community, including those who were once not welcome on this campus, feel welcome. The action of the BOT in this case makes it harder for UNC-Chapel Hill to attract and retain the best faculty, particularly those of color, and difficult for us to create the kind of inclusive and welcoming environment for which we strive. We call on the BOT to approve a tenured appointment to Prof. Hannah-Jones and to take other concrete steps to repair the damage that this politically motivated decision has had on this campus. To be a leader in higher education, UNC-Chapel Hill must be inclusive and welcoming. The BOT’s mission of furthering the interests of the University is not consistent with actions that harm our reputation for diversity and inclusion.

Isaac Unah, Associate Professor

Susan Bickford, Associate Professor

Frank Baumgartner, Professor

Navin Bapat, Professor

Evelyne Huber, Professor

Rahsaan Maxwell, Professor

Pamela Johnston Conover, Professor

Virginia Gray, Emeritus Professor

Graeme Robertson, Professor 

Jeff Spinner-Halev, Professor

Mark Crescenzi, Professor

Gary Marks, Professor

Liesbet Hooghe, Professor

Timothy J. Ryan, Associate Professor

Stephen Gent, Associate Professor

Donald D. Searing, Professor

Santiago Olivella, Assistant Professor

Suzanne Globetti, Teaching Associate Professor

Milada Anna Vachudova, Associate Professor

Lucy Martin, Assistant Professor

Cameron Ballard-Rosa, Assistant Professor

Jonathan Hartlyn, Professor

Nora Hanagan, Teaching Assistant Professor 

Mary Kroeger, Assistant Professor

Marc Hetherington, Professor

John D. Stephens, Professor

Niklaus Steiner, Professor

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