Last week, the news broke about UNC’s decision to revoke its offer of the tenured Knight Chair in Race and Investigative to Hannah-Jones
In the aftermath of UNC Chapel Hill’s decision to deny New York Times writer and Pulitzer winner Nikole Hannah-Jones a tenured position, a group of writers, historians, artists, athletes, and academics have harnessed the power of the pen in solidarity.
Last week, the news broke about UNC’s decision to revoke its offer of the tenured Knight Chair in Race and Investigative to Hannah-Jones. Instead, Hannah-Jones will start at her alma mater in a five-year contract as Professor of Practice this fall with the opportunity to be reviewed for tenure when that term is over, Policy Watch reports.
The letter published in The Root and authored by fellow MacArthur Genius grant recipient, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Yale University professor and historian Dr. Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, and Johns Hopkins University professor Martha S. Jones, blasts UNC’s decision as “a failure of courage on the part of the Board of Trustees to follow the recommendation of Hannah-Jones’ peers.”
The letter has been signed by numerous luminaries; among them are Ryan Coogler, Dr. Brittney Cooper, Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw, Dr. Angela Davis, Ava DuVernay, Barry Jenkins, Dr. Greg Carr, Dr. Hazel Carby, Jelani Cobb, Henry Louis Gates Jr. Dr. Cornel West, Jesmyn Ward and Dwayne Wade.
Since its publication in 2019, the 1619 Project has been attacked by right-wing politicians, including Newt Gingrich, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and former President Donald Trump. As the letter points out, one of the most troubling aspects of the backlash against Hannah-Jones’ work are Republican-led attempts to muzzle transparent historical teaching in schools.
“While the denial of tenure is egregious, it is not an isolated incident. The same anti-democratic thinking that blocked Hannah-Jones’ appointment at her alma mater has also fueled efforts in state and local legislatures to ban the teaching of histories of slavery and its legacies through the 1619 Project.”
A growing number of states including Arkansas, South Dakota, Indiana, Tennessee, and Texas have proposed or already passed legislation that restricts the teaching of critical race theory in public schools.
In their letter, the signatories have foreshadowed the ways they may resist against what they believe is an assault on academic freedom. These efforts include pressuring the institutions they are affiliated with to publicize their support for “the freedom of ideas in the classroom,” dissuading philanthropic organizations from giving to suppressing institutions, turning down speaking invitations, and holding elected officials accountable.
“We will cheer Nikole Hannah-Jones on when she steps into her classroom at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill this fall. But we will not turn away from the regrettable circumstances under which she will do so,” the illustrious group states in the letter. “The University’s Board of Trustees has failed to uphold the first order values of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas.”
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