(New York, NY) — According to reporting, the UNC-Chapel Hill board of trustees recently chose not to approve tenure for investigative journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, in conjunction with her upcoming appointment as Knight chair of race and investigative journalism at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media. The decision appears to represent a break with existing practice, since all previous Knight chairs at UNC-Chapel Hill have been awarded tenure and Hannah-Jones submitted a tenure package that had already been reviewed and approved by a tenure committee. Though quoted anonymously, some trustees have reportedly said that the decision was ideologically motivated, influenced by conservative backlash to Hannah-Jones over her leadership of The New York Times’s 1619 Project.  

“We are deeply concerned by reports that the UNC-Chapel Hill board of trustees may have allowed disagreements or misgivings over the ideological orientation of an incoming faculty member’s work to influence this decision” said Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education at PEN America. “Boards of trustees that play a role in tenure approval should do so in a manner consistent with the precepts of academic freedom, ensuring that considerations of viewpoint, politics, and ideology do not dictate their decisions. Amid the polarization of our national discourse, public universities have an especial responsibility to uphold academic integrity, foster a diversity of viewpoints on campus, and make space for informed, reasoned disagreement.  Absent any other proffered justification for this highly unusual decision, it would appear to undermine the integrity of the appointments process at UNC and the climate for academic freedom. It should be immediately reversed.”