University of North Carolina Trustees do their job and save school from granting tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones of the 1619 Project

The people of North Carolina dodged a bullet when the Trustees of the University of North Carolina acted to deny a grant of tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones at the University's Hussman School of Journalism and Media, leaving in place a five-year contract to teach there that the school had offered to recruit her.

The denial of tenure was first reported by NC Policy Watch:

As Policy Watch reported last week, UNC-Chapel Hill's Hussman School of Journalism and Media pursued Hannah-Jones for its Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism, a tenured professorship. But following political pressure from conservatives who object to her work on "The 1619 Project" for The New York Times Magazine, the school changed its plan to offer her tenure — which amounts to a career-long appointment. Instead, she will start July 1 for a fixed five-year term as Professor of the Practice, with the option of being reviewed for tenure at the end of that time period.

Hannah-Jones is being offered the opportunity to prove that she can be an effective classroom teacher before granting her a lifetime job doing something she has never done before.  That seems a lot more reasonable than taking a flyer on a rookie in a lifetime job.  It's not as if she is ruled out for tenure.  By the way, she holds a master's degree from the Hussman School but lacks a doctorate, which raises questions about her capabilities as a scholarly researcher.

Her work on the 1619 Project raises issues of research competence as well, even though the progressive claque that wants to propagandize our young to hate this country seems to love it.

After the publication of the 1619 Project, some historians were signatories to a letter asking the Times to correct the "factual errors" present in the series which amounted to "a displacement of historical understanding by ideology."  Among them was Gordon Wood, noted historian and author of The Radicalism of the American Revolution.  When the New York Times refused to make any of the historians' recommended corrections, Wood sent a letter which can be best described as an intellectual bludgeoning. 

Wood's letter kindly begins by saying that he has no problem with "demonstrating the importance of slavery in the history of our country," but is concerned that such a "worthy goal will be seriously harmed if the facts turn out to be wrong" and the "interpretations of the events are deemed to be perverse and distorted."  He then goes on to ruthlessly decimate the first of the Project's central contentions with facts. 

Now, please remember that Hannah-Jones has spent just under two decades as an investigative journalist, and is making the radical argument that the American colonials revolted against the British Empire because it represented a threat to the institution of slavery in the colonies.  Gordon Wood, who earned his Ph.D. in history from Harvard over a decade before Ms. Hannah-Jones was even born, thoroughly shatters that contention, writing:

I have spent my career studying the American Revolution and cannot accept the view that "one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery." I don't know of any colonist who said that they wanted independence in order to preserve their slaves. No colonist expressed alarm that the mother country was out to abolish slavery in 1776.

Furthermore, he writes:

There is no evidence in 1776 of a rising movement to abolish the Atlantic slave trade, as the 1619 Project erroneously asserts, nor is there any evidence the British government was eager to do so. But even if either were the case, ending the Atlantic slave trade would have been welcomed by the Virginia planters, who already had more slaves than they needed. Indeed, the Virginians in the years following independence took the lead in moving to abolish the despicable international slave trade.

The New York Times shamefully waited to stealthily amend its publication of Hannah-Jones's work:

The New York Times eventually corrected Hannah-Jones's opening essay for the project, for which she had won a Pulitzer Prize, conceding seven months after its publication that the protection of chattel slavery was not, in fact, one of the "primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain."

The essay now says "some" of the colonists wanted to protect slavery, which is a face-saving nothingburger compared to Hannah-Jones's aim in her essay.

It's important to note here the correction came about only after a 1619 Project fact-checker revealed that she had been ignored when she warned Hannah-Jones's essay contained grave historical inaccuracies.

The New York Times also quietly amended the project's language after Hannah-Jones falsely claimed, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, that its core thesis is not what she and everyone else involved in the project originally said it was.

A statement posted online by a group calling itself "The Hussman faculty" predictably states, "[W]e are stunned at the failure to award tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones."  The statement also contends that the Trustees' action "undermines the integrity of and academic freedom within the whole University of North Carolina system."

"Academic freedom" is something the left believes in only for leftists.  Call someone "racist" or a "white supremacist," and see how many progressives stand up for "academic freedom."

The plain fact is that trustees in higher education have for decades been lulled into neglecting their moral and intellectual fiduciary duty to keep their institutions responsible to the greater society that supports higher education, under the delusion that "academic freedom" means that faculties and administrations can be entirely self-governing (except, of course, when it comes to supplying the money — which comes from a much broader community).

A group with which I have been affiliated for many years, The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), has long been campaigning to educate those who sit on boards of trustees as to their powers and responsibilities to keep higher education aligned with the broader needs of society, as opposed to rubber-stamping everything that administrations and faculties come up with.  Alas, it is the exception, not the rule, when trustees act in opposition to what those they supervise demand.

Nonetheless, some reactions have been extreme.  "UNC-Chapel Hill Bows to Conservative Crazies, Won't Offer Tenured Position to 1619 Journalist," headlined Black-oriented website The Root.

Given the leisurely pace of scholarly publication, the quality of Hannah-Jones's work will be better understood in the future, so taking five years to evaluate her merit seems only prudent.

Photo credit: Associação Brasileira de Jornalismo InvestigativoCC BY 2.0 license.

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