An analysis: What has UNC the Hannah – Jones settlement over tenure debacle accomplished?By Cash Michaels, Peacemaker Senior Contributor / July 21, 2022
For those who thought that award-winning New York Times Magazine journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones deserved a six-figure check when she reportedly agreed to settle with UNC – Chapel Hill last week, instead of taking her race discrimination tenure case to court, the news that she only got somewhere in the neighborhood of less than $75,000 was probably disappointing.
But for Hannah – Jones, who publicly hadn’t commented on the settlement until Tuesday, the victory over forcing the politically conservative Board of Trustees at UNC to give her the full tenure she automatically deserved upon accepting a 2021 job offer to teach at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, wasn’t satisfying enough. Hannah- Jones ultimately publicly rejected the UNC position in favor of teaching at Howard University.In her settlement, Hannah-Jones made sure that the university would agree to “…address racial inequity at the university,” her graduate alma mater.
She tweeted Tuesday that her fight was never only about her.
She isn’t starving, certainly not as a high-profile NYT investigative journalist, acclaimed Pulitzer Prize winner for her work on the landmark 1619 Project about slavery, and position as a prestigious Knight Foundation-endowed Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at Howard.
But the fact that the predominately White, male and right-wing UNC Board of Trustees would play games with her job offer and the tenure attached to it, was more than enough for this proud Black woman professional to decide to not allow herself, or others who look like her, to be treated in any other way than above board and with dignity.
Last year, the board, influenced by politics and a major conservative donor, was telling, not asking Hannah-Jones, to take the job teaching at Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and at the end of five-years, they might revisit the offer of tenure.
No other scholar offered a tenured position at Hussman had ever been treated in such a manner. This Black woman was not going to allow herself to be the first. The ensuing national controversy brought charges of racism against UNC…charges that have rattled its once stellar reputation, even today.
The academic accreditation of the Hussman Journalism School was downgraded in May, and the university recently drew the condemnation of the American Association of University Professors.
Hannah-Jones was pleased with the support she got from the public, UNC students and faculty, because they all understood the issues involved.
But she was not pleased with the lack of support from the UNC – Chapel administration, which seemed to cower in the midst of the controversy.
By accepting the same position at Howard, a high-profile historically Black university (HBCU), again, as an endowed Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism after forcing the UNC Board to change course and vote to give her a tenured job offer, only to turn it down immediately for Howard, was Hannah-Jones telling them, and the world, that above all else, she knew her value.
And she wanted the students she would never get to teach at UNC, to know their value and power too, demand it, and be treated fairly.
When the announcement was made by UNC Board of Trustees Chairman David Boliek last Friday, he noted that the settlement was for less than $75,000 and was approved by UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz.
That was the highest amount he is officially allowed to make. Anything higher, the UNC Trustee Board would have to approve.
But whatever the final number was, it was not the only factor to stave off possible legal action from Hannah-Jones, her attorneys said.
What had not been reported is that the settlement agreement requires:
- an inclusive search process involving the training of 20 UNC-Chapel Hill faculty and staff to become advisers “in the development of positions, recruitment, screening, interviewing, references, evaluation and integration of new employees.
- mental health counseling, involving the posting of a position for an additional trauma-informed therapist with the Multicultural Health Program no later the July 31, 2022, and hiring a qualified applicant for this position.
- the reserving of $5,000 each fiscal year through June 30, 2025, to be available through the Provost’s Office to pay reasonable expense for meetings, events and symposia sponsored by the Carolina Black Caucus upon review and approval by the UNC-Chapel Hill Vice Provost.
According to the attorneys with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund who represented Nikole Hannah-Jones, “…this settlement enables her to be made whole while contributing to improving the climate at the university.”
“[The settlement] ..provides Ms. Hannah-Jones with the necessary closure to put this incident behind her. No less importantly, we believe that the settlement is a victory for the right to expression – a cornerstone of our democracy that has too frequently been infringed or ignored when claimed by Black people and people from other marginalized groups.”