There was no reason to think Nikole Hannah-Jones’ tenure wouldn’t come through. Hannah-Jones, an acclaimed journalist, was recruited for a tenured Knight chair in race and investigative journalism in the University of North Carolina’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media, a position designed to bring professionals to campus. With 20 years of newsroom experience, a Pulitzer Prize, and a MacArthur “genius” grant, Hannah-Jones’ case sailed through the lengthy and rigorous tenure process and was approved by the school, the university, and the provost. We both teach at UNC—Daniel at the Hussman school—and were thrilled to have Hannah-Jones on campus.
But then her tenure case reached the university’s conservative majority board of trustees, where it apparently lingered without action in a subcommittee. In the end, the board took the unprecedented step of refusing to hear the case at all. When the news became public, there was a large outcry. Hannah-Jones’ legal team gave the board of trustees until Friday to reconsider tenure. Why, despite all her qualifications, did the board of trustees refuse to grant Hannah-Jones tenure?