University Denies 1619 Project Creator Hannah-Jones Immediate Tenure

Why University of North Carolina trustees made the right decision.

The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill (UNC) declined to approve Nikole Hannah-Jones for a tenured teaching position immediately. She is the prominent New York Times investigative journalist who created the controversial 1619 Project. UNC offered Hannah-Jones instead a fixed five-year contract to teach at its prestigious Hussman School of Journalism and Media as “Professor of the Practice,” which she accepted, with the prospect of future tenure consideration. UNC’s Board of Trustees made the right call by declining to offer Hannah-Jones a tenured professorship for now. Aside from Hannah-Jones’ lack of academic experience, she has shown herself to be ethically challenged as a journalist.

Hannah-Jones was not cancelled from teaching at UNC. She still is eligible for a future tenured position after review of her teaching and academic research record at the university. Nevertheless, there was outrage on and off campus at the cancelling of Hannah-Jones’ hopes for immediate tenure.

The Raleigh-Apex NAACP issued a statement saying the decision not to approve immediate tenure for Hannah-Jones is a “real case of cancel culture.” Faculty members and student government leaders wrote letters of protest.

The faculty letter claimed that the failure to offer Hannah-Jones tenure “unfairly moves the goalposts and violates long-standing norms and established processes relating to tenure and promotion at UNC Chapel Hill.” The student letter stated: “We cannot stand by as our University routinely diminishes and undercuts marginalized and BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and people of color] voices in academia in an effort to bend toward partisan pressures rooted in a fear of America’s historical truths.”

Over three dozen students, faculty and community members protested as the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees was meeting on May 20th. Some of the signs they held said “Abolish the BOT,” “#BlackHistoryMatters,” “#BlackWomenMatter,” “Nikole Hannah Jones is all of us,” and “UNC = Klan University lovers of racist ignorance!!”

Over 200 academics, journalists, and celebrities published a letter on May 25th condemning the failure to grant immediate tenure to Hannah-Jones. “The University’s Board of Trustees has failed to uphold the first order values of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas,” the letter said. 

Such attempts to turn Hannah-Jones into a martyr for freedom of the press and anti-racism are laughable. Just look at some examples of her highly questionable behavior as a journalist.

Hannah-Jones received liberal elitist plaudits for creating and contributing to the New York Times' 1619 Project, including a Pulitzer prize. But the work was replete with historical inaccuracies. Instead of responding to critics of the project, who included prominent historians, with factual evidence and rational arguments to support her thesis, Hannah-Jones smeared the critics. She reportedly dismissed them as “old, white male historians.” Hannah-Jones also pushed back at making any corrections and tried to deny the fact that she had originally referred to 1619 as the date of “our true founding.” Hannah-Jones thereby violated one of the tenets of the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics, which states that journalists should “[T]ake responsibility for the accuracy of their work.”

The whole project as published in the New York Times Magazine, including Hannah-Jones’ introductory essay, was an advocacy piece promoting the viewpoint of critical race theory. Hannah- Jones admitted to an interviewer that her "ultimate goal" in pulling together the 1619 Project was that "there'll be a reparations bill passed,”  although the 1619 Project's publication in the New York Times Magazine itself did not specifically disclose this goal. The 1619 Project's publication was not labeled as an "advocacy" piece, in violation of another tenet of the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics. (Hannah-Jones did write a separate New York Times Magazine article explicitly supporting reparations nearly a year later).

Hannah-Jones led a cancel-culture New York Times staff rebellion last year against her employer’s decision to publish an op-ed article by Republican Senator Tom Cotton. Why? Because it expressed a viewpoint that Hannah-Jones found objectionable. Hannah-Jones complained about “adherence to even-handedness, both sideism,” which she said “doesn’t actually work in the political circumstances that we’re in.” So much for the free exchange of ideas as far as Hannah-Jones is concerned.

Hannah-Jones’ jihad against Senator Cotton’s op-ed article violated yet another tenet of the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics, which states that journalists should “[S]upport the open and civil exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.” 

Political correctness has blinded the Society of Professional Journalists to Hannah-Jones’ multiple infractions of its own code of ethics. It objected to UNC’s decision to deny immediate tenure to Hannah-Jones, even though she will still be teaching at UNC and will have a chance to prove that she truly deserves a potentially lifetime tenured position.

Hannah-Jones even violated the New York Times' own social media guidelines but the "paper of record" defended its "star" journalist anyway. Hannah-Jones apparently doxxed a reporter from a conservative media outlet who had inquired about Hannah-Jones’ past use of the n-word, following the ouster of a prominent New York Times science correspondent for using the n-word. Hannah-Jones tweeted not only the reporter’s inquiry, which is fair enough. She also posted a screenshot of the reporter’s phone number, which it took at least two days for her to delete. With the reporter's personal information exposed on social media, the horse had already left the barn. The New York Times’ senior vice president of communications played down the incident, calling the inclusion of the phone number “inadvertent.”

Hannah-Jones said back in 2017 that what drove her in reporting about racial inequality was “rage.” She displayed her rage last year when, during the midst of the rioting and looting in the streets that followed the police killing of George Floyd, she exclaimed that “Destroying property, which can be replaced, is not violence.” Hannah-Jones added that “Any reasonable person would say we shouldn’t be destroying other people’s property, but these are not reasonable times.” In other words, Hannah-Jones, who holds herself out as a news reporter, is saying that the special circumstances last spring and summer justified enraged mobs burning down businesses, looting stores, and carrying off expensive TVs and appliances. Not even this outrageous statement caused the New York Times to publicly reprimand Hannah-Jones.

Credible journalists have no business making excuses for such blatantly illegal activity. But that is precisely what Hannah-Jones did. Call it another of her ethical lapses. Hannah-Jones needs to show some self-awareness of what it means to be a fully responsible journalist and prove that she can serve as a good role model for her students at UNC before being seriously considered for a tenured position.

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