Dear Department, (This letter was sent to the Office of Faculty Governance)
As you know, the Pulitzer Prize Award-winning Black journalist, Nikole Hannah-Jones, was recruited to UNC with the initial offer of a faculty position with tenure. However, this appointment was not approved or acted upon by the UNC Chapel Hill Board of Trustees (BOT). This was despite overwhelming faculty support from the Hussman School, its Chair, and from the Dean. There is no question that Nikole Hannah-Jones is exceptionally accomplished and qualified. In fact, individuals at this level are typically candidates for a distinguished professorship. Among her many accomplishments include the Pulitzer Prize, the MacArthur Fellowship, and election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
By not voting on her appointment, the BOT violated all norms and past precedent at UNC. They ignored its faculty who can best judge her appropriateness for the position they offered. The BOT’s actions have now significantly hurt the institution they are charged to protect. We have – and now will continue to lose – promising minority (and majority) students and faculty who no longer recognize the University of North Carolina as a place where their careers, minds, and identities can flourish. Numerous media articles highlight the political reasons for a decision that thwarts what we work so hard at UNC-CH and around the country to improve. Additionally, the BOT contradicts the need to research unpopular topics and speak the truth without fear of retribution by those who would prefer a different narrative. Violating foundational academic freedom is unacceptable.
The Biochemistry & Biophysics Department, along with its Leadership Team and its DEI committee want you to know that we are fully aware of this event and its broader implications. We resolutely disapprove of the BOT’s action. Aggressive and ongoing efforts have been undertaken at UNC to increase the recruitment and hiring of underrepresented minority faculty, staff, and students. The BOT’s current refusal to consider Ms. Hannah-Jones tenure promotion has seriously jeopardized these efforts and thereby substantively diminished our national reputation as a leading public institution. We strongly support the Professor with tenure appointment for Ms. Hannah-Jones and expect the BOT to carry out their duties to make UNC a stronger and more diverse university, not to weaken it. Be assured: we will redouble efforts to build a more diverse department and to voice opinions to ensure change.
All best wishes,
The BCPB Leadership Team and its DEI committee