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20 June 2021

The Board of Trustees
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Dear Members of the Board of Trustees:

The Classics Department adds its voice to the faculty consensus rising in protest of recent actions and failure to take action by UNC-CH’s Board of Trustees regarding the appointment of the distinguished journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones in the School of Journalism and Media. Nikole Hannah-Jones seems well deserving of tenure. She has won a Pulitzer Prize, a Peabody award, a George Polk award, a fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (only 14 scholars  in the State of North Carolina have received the honor since its inception 40 years ago), and a fellowship from the Institute for Advanced Studies, and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (a prestigious honor held by only about 40 of Carolina’s 4000 faculty) and the North Carolina Media & Journalism Hall of Fame.

But the crucial point is not that she seems to us worthy of tenure, but that the faculty and Dean of the School of Journalism and Media, after a long process that as usual included rigorous external evaluation of her work from experts in the field, have recommended her for tenure, and the Provost has forwarded their recommendation to the Board of Trustees.

We thank the Board for their service to Carolina, and for the many ways in which their skills and life experiences help them to do their job and maintain the University. But their job should not include making judgments about the quality of academic work, judgments for which they lack the requisite training, expertise, and subject knowledge. It is particularly distressing to hear that their tentative actions so far and perhaps their final actions on this case might be influenced by pressure from politicians and wealthy donors, neither of whom should have any influence on tenure cases.

Although we appreciate the importance of oversight of the Board of Trustees, the handling of this issue undermines the foundational principals of shared governance and academic freedom that are critical to maintaining a world-class research university; calls into question the system of fair review that we depend on to freely develop our research and teaching; and fundamentally weakens our ability to attract and retain the very best faculty. The potential damage to the reputation of Carolina if an outstanding Black female candidate for a tenured position should be denied for inappropriate and perhaps even illegal reasons would be considerable. Not just faculty of color or female faculty of color—who today play a critical role in making Carolina an institution marked by excellence in teaching and scholarship—but all faculty would be threatened by the new and dangerous precedent of a distinguished candidate for tenure being turned down for political reasons or because the Board of Trustees disapproved of their views.

We call upon the Board of Trustees to avoid further damage to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and its reputation, and to re-dedicate itself to following proper procedures and practices in tenure cases and showing proper respect for the deep knowledge, expertise, judgment, and dedication of the UNC faculty.

Respectfully submitted,

Faculty of the Department of Classics
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

 

cc. Office of Faculty Governance
Faculty, Department of Classics
Mimi Chapman, Chair of the Faculty
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