1619 Project Founder Loses University Tenure Offer after Critics Cite Her “Unfactual and Biased” Work

The University of North Carolina (UNC) has withdrawn its offer of a tenured professorship to the author of the New York Times '1619 Project'.

After an intense backlash from conservatives, UNC-Chapel Hill's board of trustees decided not to approve the tenure for 1619 Project author Nikole Hannah-Jones at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media which would have seen Hannah-Jones join the school as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism.

As reported by NC Policy Watch, Hannah-Jones will now undertake a fixed five-year term as a Professor of the Practice in the place of the tenure. A member of the Board of Trustees at UNC explained the decision to NC 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. It's maybe not a solution that is going to please everyone. Maybe it won't please anyone. But if this was going to happen, this was the way to get it done.”

In 2019, Hannah-Jones won the Pulitzer Prize for the 1619 Project which aimed to “reframe the country's history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very centre of the United States national narrative.” The project was lambasted by a number of historians including Gordon S. Wood, James M. McPherson, Sean Wilentz, Victoria Bynum and James Oakes. In an open letter published in The New York Times in December 2019, the historians expressed “strong reservations” in regards to the content of the project and requested several factual corrections in place of what they labelled “ideology before historical understanding.” Former President Donald Trump called the review a “warped and distorted” portrayal of American history and later countered it by commissioning the 1776 Report

Conservatives with ties to the UNC’s Board of Governors were highly critical of the university’s decision to grant Hannah-Jones a tenure. Shannon Watkins, writing for the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, asserted that Hannah-Jones work was “unfactual and biased” and the developments signified “serious red flags about how the university is being run.” The columnist proceeded to warn of “a degradation of journalistic standards” and implored the Board of Governors to “act swiftly to amend all relevant policies so that trustees are required to review every proposed hire.”

In a statement to NBC News, the dean of UNC’s Hussman campus Susan King said she was “delighted” to welcome Hannah-Jones, albeit in a Professor of the Practice position.

“While I am disappointed that the appointment is without tenure, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that she will be a star faculty member … 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 calibre 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.”

King proceeded to affirm the university’s “job [in] expos[ing] our students to the great issues of our time,” which she characterised as a “time of racial reckoning.” 

Daniel Kreiss, an associate professor at Hussman, also condemned the controversy over Hannah-Jones' hiring. 

“Obviously, they knew the hiring could be controversial. But I think it's all quite silly, to be honest. Nikole Hannah-Jones is one of the most prominent journalists in the United States, frankly in the world, today and [is] doing exactly the kind of work that is necessary to help the US come to terms with its racial history. She's an alum we're frankly quite proud of and should be. We've had her in to give numerous talks over the years. Like her work, they've been rigorous, historical, investigative, and it makes a strong and forceful argument for coming to a full understanding of the US's history to move forward from there.”

UNC-Chapel Hill’s student body president Lamar Richard also gave his comments on the matter. A black student, Richards affirmed that he did not believe Hannah-Jones’s work to be at odds with “the spirit of the university.”

“I’ve heard people say that she shouldn’t work here, that they disagree with her beliefs, that they disagree with what she has to say. But I believe, and the chancellor I believe has said and supports this publicly, that our university is a place for the free flow of ideas, for different ideologies, for people who everyone might not agree with and whose work might not please everyone.”

Nikole Hannah-Jones has not yet commented on the news that she will no longer be eligible for tenure.