In one of his first actions as the new UNC Student Body President, Lamar Richards is calling upon the university’s Board of Trustees to hold a vote on tenure for Nikole Hannah-Jones.
Hannah-Jones was set to return to UNC’s journalism school as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism, a tenured professorship. However, as first reported by NC Policy Watch, the school has changed its plans following political pressure from conservative groups who object to her work “The 1619 Project.” Hannah-Jones will instead start a fixed, five-year term with the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media with the option of being reviewed for tenure at the end of that time period.
Richards, who was sworn in on Thursday as the student representative on the Board of Trustees, called on fellow board members to hold a vote in a statement addressed to UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, Provost Bob Blouin and Board chairman Richard Stevens.
“If we truly want transparency, harmony, and success at Carolina, you all will act swiftly to get the matter of her tenure before our Board in a Special called meeting to discuss further the merits of her application and candidacy – in open session (if legally allowed, once receiving her consent),” Richards wrote. “We have a duty to this University to uphold the values we all hold so dear.”
Richards singled out Guskiewicz, Blouin and Stevens for their roles in delaying Hannah-Jones tenure application — which resulted in the Board taking no action to approve or deny it.
“While our Board was not responsible for rejecting her tenure, Kevin, Bob, and Richard: you three were and continue to be single-handedly responsible for delaying and denying Nikole’s right for her application for tenure to be heard in formal capacity before our Board.”
STUDENT BODY PRESIDENT LAMAR RICHARDS SENDS OFFICIAL LETTER TO ADMIN:
“If she should decide not to come to this University as a result of not being considered for tenure, Kevin: I want you to know that you would have lost my faith in your ability to lead this University…” pic.twitter.com/5brrRDughU
— UNC Commission on Campus Equality & Student Equity (@UNCequity) May 22, 2021
Following the Board of Trustees’ meeting on Thursday, Guskiewicz and Stevens held a media availability regarding Hannah-Jones’ tenure application. Stevens said more time was needed to go over Hannah-Jones’ application and answer questions regarding her candidacy.
“We take seriously our responsibility for approving tenure – we’re talking about a lifetime position here,” Stevens said. “So, it’s not unusual for members of the board, or in particular the chair of the committee, to have questions for clarification about background – particularly candidates that don’t come from a traditional, academic-type background.”
In his letter, Richards called upon the Board of Trustees to hold an immediate vote on Hannah-Jones’ tenure application in a special called meeting, with consent from Hannah-Jones to “discuss both her personnel record and candidacy for tenure in open session.”
“Please understand that I do not make this request lightly, but rather to move our University forward in the right direction,” Richards wrote. “The only way to do that is with steadfast, decisive decision-making. In my honest opinion, the Board should have heard the request of her tenure when it was first given to the Board.
“It is both a disservice and an overreach of the Board,” the student body president continued, “to intentionally prolong and neglect to take action on a matter simply because of disagreement or dissent with the individual or topic at hand – that is what our body is for, to vote on all matters placed before us whether hard, easy, difficult, or controversial. Our job is not to intentionally back channel or to subvert the process of an issue coming to a vote.”
UNC’s failure to offer Hannah-Jones tenure had led to national headlines, a protest at Thursday’s Board of Trustees meeting and condemnations from various groups — including the UNC faculty, student government, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP chapter and the National Association of Black Journalists among others.
Read UNC Student Body President Lamar Richards’ letter here.
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