Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones has told the University of North Carolina that, according to a letter from her attorneys, she will not attend her faculty next month as planned unless she is granted a term.
Ms. Hannah-Jones, New York Times Magazine correspondent, had agreed to teach as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at the university’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media. Her appointment sparked fierce opposition from Conservatives across the country to Ms. Hannah-Jones ‘role in creating, and becoming, the Times’ 1619 Project – an ambitious series that reshaped United States history through the lens of slavery finally denied the term of office.
The letter, originally reported by NC Policy Watch and posted on its website, demonstratively referred to the political interference of an unnamed “powerful donor” whose influence “contributed to the Board of Trustees’ failure to consider their application for office”.
“In view of this information, Ms. Hannah-Jones cannot trust that the university will examine her application in good faith during the term of the fixed-term employment contract,” said the letter on Monday.
The letter appears to refer to Walter E. Hussman Jr., a newspaper publisher after whom the university’s journalism school is named and who has raised concerns about the employment of Ms. Hannah-Jones. The letter was signed by an attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the law firms Levy Ratner and Ferguson Chambers & Sumter, representing Ms. Hannah-Jones.
The tenure committee and the university’s chancellor, along with the dean and faculty of the journalism school, recommended her for her appointment, which was announced in April. But the school’s board of trustees decided not to take action and effectively denied Ms. Hannah-Jones the term of office. Instead, she accepted a five-year contract with an option to review.
In May, Ms. Hannah-Jones, who received a master’s degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina in 2003, said about filing a discrimination lawsuit for board disapproval of the term.
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Her legal team followed up on Monday with a letter to the university’s lawyers stating that Ms. Hannah-Jones “could not start a job with the university without the protection and security of a job.” The letter stated that she had not withdrawn her application for term of office.
Mr. Hussman had criticized aspects of the 1619 project in emails to university directors, including Susan King, the dean of the Hussman School. But he said in an interview with the Times earlier this month that he does not want to influence the board’s decision on Ms. Hannah-Jones.
“I really wanted them to know more about the 1619 Project,” said Mr. Hussman, longtime editor of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette in Little Rock and a UNC graduate. “And I thought I knew it a lot better now that I’ve read it – not cursory, but carefully.”
To the board members, he said, “You will have to make your own decision.”
Mr Hussman, who pledged $ 25 million to the journalism school, said any decision about Ms. Hannah-Jones’ role at the university would not affect his future donations.
Neither the university nor the NAACP Legal Defense Fund immediately responded to requests for comment.
The 1619 project, named after the year enslaved Africans were brought to the English colony of Virginia, was criticized early on by five prominent historians. The series became the center of a cultural debate, due in part to a series of 1,619 project school curricula developed by the Pulitzer Center and offered on its website.
Last month, 1,619 University of North Carolina students and alumni signed a two-page advertisement published in The News & Observer of Raleigh, NC, demanding the employment of Ms. Hannah-Jones. In addition, more than 200 academics and cultural professionals – including writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, filmmaker Ava DuVernay, and historian Eric Foner – signed a letter published in The Root last month saying the board had a “failure of courage” proven. in his refusal to grant her term of office.
Republican lawmakers in nearly a dozen states have also proposed bills targeting the 1619 Project.