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June 22, 2021

Richard Y. Stevens (Chair)

UNC-Board of Trustees

Dear Mr. Stevens and Fellow Members of the UNC Board of Trustees:

The Department of Women’s and Gender Studies values and upholds the principles of academic freedom. This freedom is necessary for us to conduct research, teaching, and service that furthers the interests of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the people of North Carolina. This principle has been seriously undermined by recent decisions, or delays in making decisions, granted to the BOT. The Department specifically condemns the delay to take up the vote on the offer of a tenured professorship to Nikole Hannah-Jones. Hannah-Jones is an award-winning journalist whose groundbreaking work has furthered necessary conversations around race, injustice, and the legacy of slavery in the United States. Moreover, her dossier was reviewed by a community of esteemed faculty peers and thus the decision to not consider her tenure flies in the face of the principles of academic freedom and faculty governance that the University of North Carolina espouses. The decision also directly contradicts UNC’s own stated devotion to furthering intellectual diversity. Most importantly, it undermines the ability of faculty to conduct their research and teaching free from political influence and persecution. The two previous individuals who held the Knight professorship were white and their status as tenured faculty was never in question.  This suggests that the denial of tenure to Hannah-Jones is rooted in racist and sexist bias. The refusal to grant Hannah-Jones tenure that she has earned has exacerbated the poor racial climate at UNC and contributed to the ongoing loss of dozens of faculty of color and indigenous faculty who have left to work at other universities.  As feminist scholars, teachers, and activists we are devoted to studying and seeking to overturn institutionalized injustice wherever we see it. We are now sadly compelled to speak up about this ongoing inequity on our own campus. We call on the Board of Trustees to uphold the principle of academic freedom and refrain from political interference in academic matters. We request that the BOT grant Nikole Hannah-Jones tenure in her position as Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism and we call on all members of the UNC community – our faculty colleagues and especially our administrative leadership, as well as students and alumni – to continue to call for Nikole Hannah-Jones’ tenure.

Cc: R. Gene Davis Jr.; gene.davis@unc.edu

Teresa Artis Neal; teeartis@unc.edu

David L. Boliek Jr.; David.boliek@unc.edu

Jefferson W. Brown; jeffbrown@mvalaw.com

G. Munroe Cobey; gmcobey@unc.edu

Haywood D. Cochrane, Jr.; haywoodcochrane@yahoo.com

Charles G. Duckett; cgd@unc.edu

Kelly Matthews Hopkins; kmhopkins@unc.edu

Allie Ray McCullen; mcullenre@aol.com

Ralph W. Meekins Sr.; rmeekins@unc.edu

John P. Preyer; jppreyer@unc.edu

Lamar G. Richards; sgapresident@unc.edu

Clayton D. Somers; clayton@unc.edu

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