The UNC Board of Directors will vote on Nikole Hannah-Jones’s term in office in the face of outcry from the black faculty and students
Following the vote, board chairman Richard Stevens said the board had “endured false claims” and had been called “the most unpleasant names” in recent weeks.
“There have been some who have unfairly challenged this university’s commitment to academic freedom and open research,” said Stevens. “We strive to be a light that shines brightly on the hill. We welcome and support academic freedom, open and rigorous debates and scientific research, constructive disagreements.”
The President and Trustee of the UNC Student Union, Lamar Richards, requested that the Board hold a special meeting to vote on the motion for Hannah-Jones.
“A punch in the face”
Black faculty, students and alumni say the controversy is just the latest example of the bias and discrimination blacks face at the UNC.
Dawna Jones, chairwoman of the Carolina Black Caucus and assistant dean of studies at UNC, said black faculty members have complained for years about being overlooked in promotions, not receiving professional development, being overworked and taking on additional responsibilities such as diversity -Chairs of selection committees and mentoring students.
The uproar over Hannah-Jones getting out of office felt like another “slap in the face” for many faculty members, Jones said.
“I think to us on campus it feels like another trigger of what goes on behind the scenes in the rooms where black leaders are,” said Jones. “We have the feeling that we are treated very differently from our (white) colleagues.”
UNC Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz released a statement saying he was concerned about the complaints from the black faculty.
“It has always been my goal to build a community where everyone really knows they belong and is valued for their own unique perspectives and experiences,” said Guskiewicz. “I am deeply concerned that some members of the Carolina Black community feel they cannot thrive in this setting.”
Anderson-Thompkins said the board’s actions felt counterproductive to her work on diversity and inclusion initiatives at the UNC and her advocacy for transparency in leadership. The board, she said, was not transparent in its discussions about Hannah-Jones’ tenure. Newly hired various faculty members have also reached out to her over concerns about the university’s climate, Anderson-Thompkins said.
“My concern is that we are not counting on our current decisions and decisions,” she said. “We just perpetuate our history, but we repeat many of the mistakes we made in the past.”
Jones said there was value in having a black woman as a full faculty member at UNC, as this is rare at many universities. There is currently only one black faculty lecturer in tenure at the UNC School of Journalism and Media, and that is Dr. Trevy McDonald, who serves as Associate Professor and Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.
“Having a black woman of her stature at the University of North Carolina is a piece of cake for us, and it’s very confusing that we are in this situation right now,” said Jones.
Student rally for journalists
UNC students have also expressed frustration with the way Hannah-Jones is being treated.
“As minority students on campus, it’s important that our faculties and staff help us represent ourselves,” said Harrell. “We want our voices to be heard not only through us, but also through our lecturers and staff.”
That year she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
McDonald said she was confident the board would grant Hannah-Jones the term.
“It won’t be a unanimous vote, but it will have the required majority,” said McDonald.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated how many black faculty members were employed at the UNC. There is a permanent teacher at the journalism school.
CNN’s Melissa Alonso contributed to this report.