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Dear Members of the Board of Trustees,

As members of the Department of Pharmacology, we write this letter to express our strong request that the Board of Trustees and Chancellor’s Office of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill work together as quickly as possible to appoint Ms. Nikole Hannah-Jones the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism with tenure.

The actions surrounding the hire of Ms. Hannah-Jones are alarming for the disparate treatment of a highly qualified candidate, the undue influence of outside parties, the threat against academic freedom, and the negative impact to the wellbeing of our community, particularly the Black community, at UNC. Without a doubt, Nikole Hannah-Jones is an accomplished, award-winning journalist whose credentials make her an exceptional candidate for Knight Chair. It is not surprising that her candidacy was fully supported and approved by the Faculty and Dean of the School of Journalism, and the Appointments, Promotions, and Tenure Committee. That outside influence impacted the plans and goals of the faculty and School leadership in this tenure decision is a serious problem that needs correction immediately.

As a department, we strive for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the conduct of our educational mission because we know the path to our greatest possible achievements is lit by diversity of thought and experience and paved with the fundamental values of respect, integrity, and community.  It seems clear that the decisions leading to the offer of a faculty position lacking tenure to Ms. Hannah-Jones are not based on these same ideals. Indeed, the current situation makes clear the importance of conferring tenure to Ms. Hannah-Jones, as this is precisely the reason that tenure exists—to allow scholars to pursue their interests without concern that they will be terminated or unduly impacted because of the very nature of that work. We denounce the decisions that have led to this situation, and we urge the Board of Trustees to share in our values and take corrective action by offering Nikole Hannah-Jones the tenured position she is so well qualified for. The Board of Trustees is charged with aiding the University’s ability to perform at the highest levels of academic excellence. By not considering or granting Nikole Hannah-Jones tenure, despite the support of all parties within UNC’s appointment and tenure process, the Board of Trustees has failed that duty, undermined the academic freedom of its faculty, and challenged the longstanding process of faculty governance.

The hurt caused by this case is incalculable and must be acknowledged. Our students, staff, and faculty question how their work and scholarship, their very lives, are valued by their own institution. The sense of community and collaboration that we have worked so hard to establish in our department is at risk as a direct result of these events. Our ability to recruit and retain talent at all levels, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or veteran status, has been compromised. Every day that passes in which the Board fails to act only serves to further diminish our standing as a leading academic institution. We urge the Board to recognize this broad negative impact and resolve to correct it by appointing Ms. Hannah-Jones the Knight Chair with tenure.


Members of the UNC Department of Pharmacology