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Was Nikole Hannah-Jones ‘happy’ with non-tenured offer? Emails reveal confusion, conflicting opinions

Ben Zeisloft, Campus Reform

Nikole Hannah-Jones appeared to be satisfied with an offer at the University of North Carolina that did not immediately grant her tenure.

As Campus Reform previously reported, Nikole Hannah-Jones, the New York Times journalist who gained national notoriety for her “1619 Project,” was offered a position as a Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at the University of North Carolina’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media, where she would have earned $180,000 per year under a five-year fixed contract.

The Board of Trustees initially chose not to take action on her tenure application — a move that generated significant backlash.

On June 30, the trustees decided to grant tenure to Hannah-Jones; nevertheless, she announced on July 6 that she had turned down the offer in favor of another position at Howard University.

Emails obtained by Campus Reform, however, reveal that Hannah-Jones was satisfied with her five-year fixed, tenure-track contract before being offered immediate tenure. Trustee Chuck Duckett wrote in a May 21 email that though Hannah-Jones is “incredibly talented” and a “national figure,” she has “not taught a class or been in academia before.” She, therefore, agreed to the five-year agreement and was “happy about it.”

Copy of UNC Public Records … by Campus Reform

The university’s narrative with respect to who offered Hannah-Jones her contract also appeared to be inconsistent.

Susan King, dean of UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media, claimed in a May 21 email to the Carolina Alumni Review that she “did not” initiate the shift to a five-year fixed contract.

King’s assertion, however, differs from Board of Trustees Chair Richard Stevens’ explanation to Indy Week published one day earlier, when he characterized the dean as taking initiative on the fixed-term contract.

“The Chancellor and Provost never presented any recommendation to us,” Stevens told the outlet. “We took no action with the board. It is my understanding that Dean Susan King elected to pursue a fixed term with her. It did not come back, to the University Affairs Committee, as none of them ever do. Nikole Hannah-Jones agreed to a fixed-term faculty position.”

On May 20, Indy Week journalist Sara Pequeno reached out to King for comment; it appears that she did not respond.

However, a university statement on July 30 explained:

Upon learning of the postponement, Dean King expressed concern to Provost Blouin and Chancellor Guskiewicz that the University risked losing Ms. Hannah-Jones to another university where she reportedly had other pending opportunities. To alleviate that risk, the University negotiated a variable track appointment (a new tenure-track option adopted by the faculty and approved by the BOT in fall 2020) with Ms. Hannah-Jones to assure that Ms. Hannah-Jones would join the faculty of the Hussman School of Journalism and Media in July 2021 and that the school would be able to submit her application for tenure at a later date. Ms. Hannah-Jones accepted that appointment in February 2021.

In an interview with The North State Journal, Duckett said that he sent an email stating “‘There’s going to be a lot of questions here, and I don’t want this to come up [without prior knowledge].”

He told the news outlet that he “wanted some questions answered and asked for a delay, meaning it would come up in March.”

However, according to Duckett, no one in the administration answered his questions about the position’s role and the overall nature of an outside hire, according to the article. Additionally, the trustees were unaware of the contract that Nikole Hannah-Jones accepted on Feb. 28.

Campus Reform reached out to UNC and Nikole Hannah-Jones for comment; this article will be updated accordingly.

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