On academic freedom: Affirming our integrity and independence

It seems apparent that the UNC Board of Trustees has again failed to review Nikole Hannah-Jones’s dossier for appointment as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism with tenure, despite affirmation at all previous levels of rigorous review. Their inaction is a blatant disregard for time-honored tenure procedures and for the university and Board of Trustees’ endorsed values of diversity, equity and inclusion.

We, the undersigned faculty of the UNC-Chapel Hill Hussman School of Journalism and Media, condemn the Board’s failure to grant Hannah-Jones tenure in the strongest terms. The fact that the Board’s inaction might have resulted from donor influence is especially alarming.

We respect the spirited support of our alumni and donors committed to the sustained excellence of our School and UNC, and we welcome public comments on our actions. When making important decisions, it is routine for our School to call on the expertise of an alumni-led advisory group for input regarding our mission.

Yet autonomy is vital in all hiring, tenure, and promotion decisions. Our faculty hires undergo a sustained, intensive process of review by faculty and university committees based on established procedures at the School and UNC. As educators in constant engagement with students and the industry roles for which we prepare them, there should be no question that we are best positioned to determine what is in their best interest and most beneficial to their learning and skills development.

We are grateful to hear that our namesake donor, despite his reservations about the hire of Hannah-Jones, remains committed to the School and to principles of philanthropic distance and academic freedom. We are also appreciative of the more than 30 groups at UNC, across academia, and in the professional world that have made strong public statements in support of hiring Hannah-Jones with tenure.

We know that Hannah-Jones — like all of our faculty — will engage students in important conversations about journalism in the United States and the world. Tenure honors and protects the ability of professors like Hannah-Jones to continue asking the hard questions that move our country toward a more just and equitable future. Academic freedom protects our faculty’s ability to make informed, carefully considered decisions regarding curricula, which we design with our students’ best interests in mind.

To maintain our commitment to excellence, to enrich the next generation of leaders, and because of her exceptional merit, we again call on the Board of Trustees to tenure Nikole Hannah-Jones as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism — with immediacy and ease.

Signatories

  1. Deb Aikat, Associate Professor
  2. Lucinda Austin, Assistant Professor
  3. Andy Bechtel, Associate Professor
  4. Lois Boynton, Associate Professor
  5. Stephanie Willen Brown, Director of Park Library
  6. Paul Cuadros, Associate Professor
  7. Maria Leonora (Nori) Comello, Associate Professor
  8. Patrick Davison, Professor
  9. Francesca Dillman Carpentier, W. Horace Carter Distinguished Professor
  10. Julie Dixon, Professor of the Practice
  11. Victoria Smith Ekstrand, Associate Professor & Caroline H. and Thomas S. Royster Distinguished Professor for Graduate Education
  12. Deen Freelon, Associate Professor
  13. Livis Freeman, Assistant Professor
  14. Barbara Friedman, Associate Professor
  15. Rhonda Gibson, James H. Shumaker Professor
  16. Chad Heartwood, Associate Professor
  17. Heidi Hennink-Kaminski, Hugh Morton Distinguished Professor
  18. Joe Bob Hester, Associate Professor
  19. Steven King, Associate Professor
  20. Nazanin B. Knudsen, Adjunct Instructor
  21. Daniel Kreiss, Edgar Thomas Cato Distinguished Associate Professor
  22. Sarah Lamm, Adjunct Instructor
  23. Allison Lazard, Associate Professor
  24. Tom Linden, Glaxo Wellcome Distinguished Professor of Medical Journalism
  25. Farnosh Mazandarani, Doctoral Candidate
  26. Trevy A. McDonald, Julian W. Scheer Term Associate Professor
  27. Michael McElroy, Adjunct Instructor
  28. Shannon C. McGregor, Assistant Professor
  29. Lee McGuigan, Assistant Professor
  30. Erin Siegal McIntyre, Assistant Professor
  31. Dana McMahan, Professor of the Practice
  32. Lee Meredith, Adjunct Instructor
  33. Seth M. Noar, James Howard and Hallie McLean Parker Distinguished Professor
  34. Terence Oliver, Walter Spearman Distinguished Professor
  35. Tamara Rice, Adjunct Professor
  36. John L. Robinson, Stembler Professional in Residence
  37. Laura Ruel, Associate Professor
  38. Kate Sheppard, Teaching Associate Professor
  39. John Sweeney, Distinguished Professor
  40. Ryan Thornburg, Associate Professor
  41. Lisa Servia Villamil, Assistant Professor
  42. Barbara Wiedemann, Communications Strategist