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Academics Explain Why Nikole Hannah-Jones’s Tenure At UNC Is Bogus


New York Times staffer Nikole Hannah-Jones, the lead writer behind the historically inaccurate 1619 Project, finally received tenure at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Hannah-Jones was hired earlier this year but initially denied the appointment, to which she had her lawyers write a letter to the university informing them she would not take the position without it. She made a big stink about the whole thing, blaming racism and the system — as a critical race theorist would.

Academic tenure is a life-long appointment that requires an institution to provide justifiable cause before terminating a professor. Cases in which professors might be asked to forfeit their tenure include incompetence, immoral conduct, violation of institutional policies, and negligence. Each school will define these, of course, on a varying basis.

The majority of educators are not tenured. It is clearly an honor to be given so much freedom from a university, and professors who earn tenure-track hires will often get an up-or-down vote on the appointment six or seven years into teaching. Very few professors will be hired with this immediate evaluation guarantee, which is why it is even more mind-boggling Hannah-Jones, whose work has been deemed factually inaccurate, was awarded tenure.

Here is what academics had to say who previously co-signed a letter calling for the Pulitzer Prize Board to revoke Hannah-Jones’s prize.

Peter Wood: President, National Association of Scholars; Taught, Boston University; Former Provost, The King’s College

Nikole Hannah-Jones has a record of journalistic practice in which she has made important substantive errors, lied about them, participated in a cover-up of them, and in other ways demonstrated complete contempt for scholarship. As for her abilities as a teacher, to me, they are completely unknown. I don’t believe she’s had a career as a teacher to evaluate her. Therefore, it is entirely a speculative matter. And service is usually evaluated on the basis of the service which an existing faculty member performs while serving as a faculty member.

Now, I would for one say that the absence of a Ph.D., makes no difference at all. There are people in fields like journalism, who don’t have Ph.D.’s and are perfectly good journalists or even excellent journalists. That’s not really an issue here.

Nikole Hannah-Jones appears to be a spectacularly bad choice for an academic appointment, or let alone one with tenure. She has zero meaningful qualifications for the role of being appointed at all. And then to add tenure on top of that is a disgrace. She is a celebrity figure on the left for having done the 1619 Project.

Stanley Kurtz: Senior Fellow, Ethics and Public Policy Center; Taught, Harvard University, University of Chicago

Nikole Hannah-Jones should not be granted tenure, now or at any time. Offering her tenure in response to a campaign of public pressure makes the University of North Carolina’s decision still more ill-advised and damaging. I was one of a group of scholars who called on the Pulitzer Board to revoke Nicole Hannah-Jones’ prize.

Our call for revocation of the Pulitzer was based not only on the glaring historical fallacies of the 1619 Project, but on serious breaches of journalistic ethics by both Hannah-Jones and the New York Times. Given the substantive errors of the 1619 Project and her egregious journalistic conduct, Hannah-Jones’s request for tenure should certainly have been denied.

Wilfred McClay: Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty, Oklahoma University; Visiting Fellow, The Heritage Foundation

I think this actually strengthens the case that tenure has become a sort of meaningless thing in the contemporary academy. It may not belong to this world as the number of actual, tangible appointments drops in colleges and universities all over the country. So, it kind of is a devaluation of something that used to be a precious commodity.

This says a lot about the state of journalism and the state of the academy. This is not exactly a turning point. The academy is really a stronghold of the left. It’s not just dominated by the left but stronger than the left. I would have grave reservations about bringing someone on like that [Hannah-Jones].

I am deeply disappointed in the board of trustees. They had a chance to do something principled. It’s not the usual way for trustees to intervene in these things but they can. The procedures are in place. They had a chance to make a statement and stand for a high understanding of academic values and not be bullied by publicity. They blew it, they blew that opportunity — which means there is no turning point here.

Myron Magnet: National Humanities Medal Recipient; Taught, Columbia University

I see that UNC hires people in Nikole Hannah Jones’s position and gives tenure even though they have practically no experience being journalism professors. I mean, it’s a trade school, right? And they hired someone who is famous in her trade.

The real problem is the journalism being churned out by these journalism school graduates is so mendacious these days. Now, the trouble with Hannah-Jones is that her principal claim to fame is this 1619 Project — which is not a mistake — it is a lie. America was not founded in 1619 as an empire of slavery. It was founded by people coming here to look for political and religious freedom.

The most respected academic historians have condemned the 1619 Project as not what happened. And if you look at someone like Thomas Jefferson, you will see that slavery was utterly inconsistent with America’s founding principles. He said, “Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever.”

What the university is dedicated to now is propaganda and ideology. Whereas Harvard once had its motto “Veritas” and Yale looks at “Veritas,” now it’s just political correctness and systemic racism.