UNC and Nikole Hannah-Jones

I went to UNC as an undergrad (class of ’06). I loved it instantly and ever sense. Great people from all walks of life and from all over the world, great ideas and brilliant thinkers, and great basketball. It was never a perfect institution, but it seemed like as close to perfect as an institution could get for me.

I am saddened and embarrassed by the ongoing debacle surrounding Nikole Hannah-Jones’s tenure case. Given Nikole Hannah-Jones’s exceptional professional accomplishments, the impact of her work on the public (and in my own sociological research on school segregation), and the widespread reports that the academic experts charged with assessing her work judged her to be easily worthy of tenure, it is inescapable that her tenure case was derailed by some combination of racism and political suppression. This is an embarrassment to UNC and a threat to academic freedom and freedom of the press everywhere. 

This has made me realize more than ever that UNC was near-perfect for me while (and because) students and faculty of color were putting up with hostility and discrimination that I didn’t fully grasp at the time. The UNC professor who impacted me the most, who inspired me to be an academic, and who has supported me ever since is a black woman. I can’t stop thinking about all that she and many other students, faculty, and staff likely put up with while they were contributing so much to make UNC a special place. I can only hope that, going forward, and starting with a fair outcome in the Hannah-Jones tenure case, UNC can be accountable for its shortcomings and work to be better for everyone.

I sent a longer and more personal version of this to the Board of Trustees (https://bot.unc.edu) and the Office of Faculty Governance (facgov@unc.edu). I hope you will consider doing so too if you have a connection to UNC. 


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