UNC Chapel Hill chemistry faculty warn that the university’s failure to hire renowned black journalist with tenure has ‘dire’ recruitment repercussions

Members of the University of North Carolina (UNC) Chapel Hill’s chemistry department are concerned about the ‘dire repercussions’ of the board of trustees’s (BOT) continued failure to approve academic tenure for acclaimed African American journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones. They argue that the publicity surrounding this tenure case is seriously harming their faculty recruitment efforts.

In fact, the prominent African American chemist Lisa Jones recently withdrew her candidacy for a job at UNC because of how the board has handled the hiring of the Pulitzer Prize-winner. Jones, a bioanalytical chemist currently at the University of Maryland who is renowned for her work in structural proteomics, says the school’s failure to offer Hannah-Jones tenure made her reconsider whether the environment at UNC would be conducive to her academic aspirations, which include promoting diversity, equity and inclusion.

‘While I have never met Ms Hannah-Jones, as a faculty member of colour I stand in solidarity with her and could not in good conscience accept a position at UNC,’ she said. ‘This situation is indicative of a broader issue within academia where faculty of colour face several obstacles and are less likely to gain tenure.’

Discrimination lawsuit looms

Back in April, UNC announced Hannah-Jones as its Knight chair in Race and Investigative Journalism, but the board has yet to consider her tenure request. Previous Knight chairs have received tenure in conjunction with their appointments, her lawyers claim.

The UNC Chapel Hill chemistry department said in a 1 June letter to chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz that it had been working to recruit Jones for more than two years. ‘Her letter, withdrawing her candidacy to join our faculty, is a reflection of what our nation’s minority scholars will be saying about the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as they search for job opportunities or consider if this university is still the right fit,’ the faculty members added. ‘We in chemistry wholeheartedly add our voices to the growing chorus and urge the BOT to hold a vote on Ms. Hannah-Jones’ tenure case immediately.’

UNC is trying to avoid a federal discrimination lawsuit related to this matter. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund has reportedly written to the university’s general counsel threatening to file a lawsuit against the university if Hannah-Jones was not offered tenure by 4 June. To date, UNC’s board of trustees has taken no action on the matter.

Critics cite federal data indicating that just eight of the 622 tenured professors at the university are African American women.