University of North Carolina Rescinds Chair Offer To Hannah-Jones

We previously discussed the controversy over the decision of the University of North Carolina’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media to make Nikole Hannah-Jones a chaired professor. Hannah-Jones was made the offer despite leading academics challenging the historical account in her 1619 Project as deeply flawed as well as criticism of her record as a journalist of intolerance, controversial positions on rioting, and fostering conspiracy theories.  Now the school has rescinded the offer to Hannah-Jones to be the next Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism. Instead, it offered a five-year appointment to the faculty.  I was one of those highly critical of the appointment, but I am equally troubled by the political interference with a faculty in making such academic decisions.

Various historians and experts blasted the 1619 project for erroneous facts (like when slaves first arrived in North America) and conclusions (like declining slavery as the defining motivation for the American Revolution).  Hannah-Jones was accused of ignoring corrections before the publication of the work.  The New York Times was criticized later for a “clarification” that undermined a main premise of her writing. In March 2020, the New York Times wrote “We recognize that our original language could be read to suggest that protecting slavery was a primary motivation for all of the colonists. The passage has been changed to make clear that this was a primary motivation for some of the colonists. A note has been appended to the story as well.” None of that appeared to concern the Pulitzer Committee anymore than University of North Carolina’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media.

Hannah-Jones would later help lead the effort at the Times to get rid of an editor and apologize for publishing a column from Sen. Tom Cotten as inaccurate and inflammatory.

All of those concerns were for the faculty to weigh in before making its decision.  It still made her the offer. What concerns me is the statement of a trustee that the change was due entirely to political pressure from the legislature:

“This is a very political thing. The university and the Board of Trustees and the Board of Governors and the Legislature have all been getting pressure since this thing was first announced last month. There have been people writing letters and making calls, for and against. But I will leave it to you which is carrying more weight. It’s maybe not a solution that is going to please everyone. Maybe it won’t please anyone. But if this was going to happen, this was the way to get it done.”

The political interference with academic appointments should raise concerns for anyone who values academic freedom. I believe that Hannah-Jones’ record is the antipathy of journalistic and academic values of accuracy and objectivity. However, the faculty did not take that view.  They clearly rejected the criticism of his 1619 Project and embraced her type of advocacy journalism. They have every right to do so.  The University has a right to countermand that decisions, but, if it is going to do so, it should be open and transparent on the basis for the action.

The decision lacks any inherent coherence or clarity. Critics believe Hannah-Jones’ record is the rife with inaccurate and biased accounts. Yet, if Hannah-Jones is not qualified to be a chaired professor due to these issues, she is presumably not qualified to be a contract professor. While it is true that tenure requires a more substantial showing of qualifications (and a chair even more so), any academic position must be placed on the candidate’s record and merits.  Hannah-Jones will still be teaching students at UNC and serving as a faculty member.  Moreover, it will not be a tenured position. Universities have a final say on tenure and particularly on chair appointments. However, it is rare to have this type of intervention. Even if the university objected to the chair appointment, this action also rejected the faculty’s decision on tenure.

The UNC action comes at a time when many are calling for more interventions at state schools to try to preserve institutions with a semblance of diversity in viewpoints. Faculties around the country have virtually purged conservative, libertarian, or even contrarian professors from their ranks. Many top schools are virtually devoid of conservative or libertarian faculty, let alone Republicans. We reached a tipping point years ago where liberal faculty members were able to effectively block most conservative applicants. The result is that the teaching academy is overwhelmingly liberal and Democratic.  It is also increasingly intolerant.  Boards may be pushed to be more active to forcing professors to accept greater ideological diversity.

State schools like UNC can offer a degree of tolerance and diversity that is virtually missing in private universities. However, it is unlikely that such balance will be preserved without pressure. That was the case with “free speech zones” and limits on free speech. Faculties uniformly failed to protect conservative and libertarian students and there is still an overwhelming atmosphere of intolerance on our campuses.  Alumni, legislators, and board members can use funding to add pressure to these faculties to maintain greater diversity of viewpoints and ideology.

This presents a difficult tension for those of us who believe in the need for both faculty governance and greater diversity of viewpoints. However, this is not how a board should respond to such controversies. The Board adopted a position divorced from principle or logic. It failed to explain why it would rescind both a tenure and chair offer. Such rare decisions should come with a full and frank explanation from the University. Instead, we have an anonymous statement that this is a political compromise removed from the academic basis for the offer. If the Trustees want more intellectual diversity on the faculty, they should state so and address how to do so without gutting faculty governance. If it views this appointee as unqualified, it should state so.

In the end, the only thing more troubling than the original offer was its rescission.

61 thoughts on “University of North Carolina Rescinds Chair Offer To Hannah-Jones”

  1. A quote from the NC State Law governing the State University system…..and please note the criteria for employment actions.

    If you do not choose the candidate based upon “Merit” then the University is in direct violation of its own Standard as required by State Law.


    Admission to, employment by, and promotion in the University of North Carolina and all of its constituent institutions shall be on the basis of merit, and there shall be no unlawful discrimination against any person on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, age, disability, genetic information, or veteran status.”.

    Was this Candidate challenged for anything beyond questionable Merit?

    Politics goes with every job to some degree….as the Legislature is responsible for Oversight of the State University System… it certainly has the power to challenge employment offers it considers lacking Merit.

  2. Colleges have become political AND anti-Republican – so legislative action is needed to reduce their intolerance.

  3. OT: An election audit in New Hampshire may be the pebble that diverts the stream

    New Hampshire was called for Biden but if the “mistake” was state-wide – that is, if Republicans were undercounted and Democrats overcounted in every county – perhaps Biden didn’t win New Hampshire. And if he didn’t win New Hampshire, maybe he didn’t win in some other states called for him either.

  4. “The political interference with academic appointments should raise concerns for anyone who values academic freedom.”

    UNC is a public university, funded by taxpayer money. You want my money. And you want me to keep my mouth shut. I don’t think so.

  5. Svelaz says:

    “What this criticism from these alleged historians Turley mentions seems to involve may be more of hair splitting on details or parsing words to soften the facts to assuage those who are not so comfortable with acknowledging our country’s deeply rooted racism.”

    Let’s face it, Svelaz, the Trumpists are not unlike those Germans who have never forgiven the Jews for the Holocaust. They will never forgive blacks for slavery.

  6. Turley you’re playing both sides (but not really). it’s kind of painful to read. You, and your employer, dedicated an entire campaign of rage and uproar over Nicole’s appointment. Own it, you got your desired result so you are indeed successful in accomplishing your mission. I really could give a f^&k about your rationalizations about it. This is the result of culture war deflection having the desired effect on a state legislature…, but it didn’t succeed in taking attention away from trump’s problems. The campaign just victimized a deserving candidate of livliehood to a degree. That’s what you set out to do.

  7. The Israelite slaves were out of Egypt before the ink was dry on their release papers. But then they had the capacity, the acumen and the intellect sufficient to the task.

    They had to have those traits as there was no generational welfare, forced busing, quotas, affirmative action, WIC, SNAP, TANF, HAMP, HARP, HUD, SSI, disability, stimulous, unemployment, unfair fair housing, discriminatory non-discrimination, social services, Mosescare, etc., in Jericho and the Promised Land.

  8. Nikole Hannah-Jones and her malevolent, mendacious tract, The 1619 Project, which she counterintuitively uses as a tool against her fecklessly generous hosts, reveal and place on center stage the fact that Africans find it productive to employ phantom guilt as a weapon, that the slaves did not merely want freedom, they wanted treasure, in ever-increasing quantities, and that the mass illegal immigration of Africans, per the unconstitutional emancipation proclamation, was not only illicit but grossly mistaken, and has “…changed and corrupted…” the “…harmony of the ingredients…,” while the resultant “…discordant intermixture…” has inflicted an “…injurious tendency…” on America.

    The American Founders intended, of careful, precise and discriminating immigration, seamless assimilation, distinctly not contentious disparity, and intractable and irreconcilable differences.

    “The influx of foreigners must, therefore, tend to produce a heterogeneous compound; to change and corrupt the national spirit; to complicate and confound public opinion; to introduce foreign propensities. In the composition of society, the harmony of the ingredients is all-important, and whatever tends to a discordant intermixture must have an injurious tendency.”

    – Alexander Hamilton

    “Suppose 20 millions of republican Americans thrown all of a sudden into France, what would be the condition of that kingdom? If it would be more turbulent, less happy, less strong, we may believe that the addition of half a million of foreigners to our present numbers would produce a similar effect here.”

    – Thomas Jefferson

  9. Turley: “Various historians and experts blasted the 1619 project for erroneous facts (like when slaves first arrived in North America) and conclusions (like declining slavery as the defining motivation for the American Revolution)”

    I am heartened to read that Turley believes facts should be taught in schools not pseudo-science like Intelligent Design or the fairy-tale Creationism. Because Turley believes in evidence and facts, he has been a closeted Never Trumper. While he has never expressly condemned it, neither has he ever voiced the Big Lie. Nor has he ever dignified the “Deep State” conspiracy. Despite my heavy criticism that he prostituted himself by joining the ignoble ranks of Fox News, he and I share a common belief that the American justice system works despite all the Trumpists who wish to overthrow it.

    1. The American justice system does not work just ask the exonerated!

  10. “The 1619 Project”

    “In August of 1619, a ship appeared on this horizon, near Point Comfort, a coastal port in the English colony of Virginia. It carried more than 20 enslaved Africans, who were sold to the colonists. No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the years of slavery that followed. On the 400th anniversary of this fateful moment, it is finally time to tell our story truthfully.”

    “The 1619 Project is an ongoing initiative from The New York Times Magazine that began in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.”

    There are serious problems for Nikole Hannah-Jones, the least of which is the classical admonition that societies of laws must strictly adhere to the laws that bind.

    – African slavery is an African matter. She failed to provide the truth of the “critical mass” of African slavery in the British Colonies: The ship “…carried 20 enslaved Africans, who were sold to the British colonists…” by AFRICAN TRIBAL LEADERS. Without the retail operations of African leaders in Africa, there would have been NO British slavery in the British colonies. Without the sale of Africans by Africans to Arab traders who sold them to British shippers who sold them to British planters, there would have been NO British slavery in the New World.

    – Nikole Hannah-Jones, her countrymen, freed slaves and their descendants are illegal aliens subject to deportation. In 1863, upon the issuance of the wholly unconstitutional emancipation proclamation, the Naturalization Act of 1802 (of which there were four iterations) was in full force and effect – including its requirement that immigrants must have been “…free white person(s)…,” which precluded colored people from obtaining citizenship – altering the status of slaves from “property” to “illegal alien” and ultimately creating a “cold case” with its inescapable verdict of guilt and immutable penalty of deportation.

    – As all acts by Lincoln were unconstitutional, including his denial of fully constitutional secession, his war of aggression against a sovereign foreign nation, his suspension of habeas corpus, his nullification of free speech and free press, his confiscation of private property, his use of military force as a dictator to “fix” the election of 1864, the issuance of a proclamation without legal basis, etc., the “Reconstruction Amendments” remain unconstitutional, improperly ratified and illegitimate, understanding that brute military force and the duress of barbarian, post-war military occupation are not provided for as integral components of the amendment process, and that the Founders intended that, “…if there are amendments desired, of such a nature as will not injure the constitution,…,” accretive amendment may occur. Lincoln not only “…injure[d]…” the Constitution, Lincoln destroyed the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

    ” And if there are amendments desired, of such a nature as will not injure the constitution, and they can be ingrafted so as to give satisfaction to the doubting part of our fellow citizens; the friends of the federal government will evince that spirit of deference and concession for which they have hitherto been distinguished.”

    – James Madison, Proposed Amendments to the Constitution, June 8, 1789

  11. Why does JT assume “political interference” influenced the decision?

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