Wow. Tenure expectations are really tight nowadays

You win a Pulitzer prize and a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” award, and you still get denied tenure? Those are standards that are impossible to reach for most of us. There must be extenua…oh. She’s black.

Nikole Hannah-Jones, who founded the Pulitzer-winning “1619 Project,” was not offered tenure at her alma matter, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Instead, she was offered a different role with the option for a tenure review in five years.

The reversal from the university, which previously announced the MacArther Fellow would teach in the Knight Chair position that comes with the expectation of tenure, came after conservative pushback to the “1619 Project” but wasn’t supported by the faculty and tenure committee.

Oh, that’s interesting. Tenure comes in stages: first you get a thorough grilling by your peers at the university, and then if you pass that, a recommendation to grant tenure is passed to the regents or trustees or in UNC’s case, a board of governors consisting of people appointed by the state government, who have final say. It’s extremely unusual for a tenure decision by the faculty to be rejected by Those On High — the board usually consists of wealthy donors who have no knowledge of the fields they stand in judgment over, and rejecting a faculty decision is going to make those faculty very unhappy.

Yet they took that step in this case, against an incredibly well-qualified candidate and genuine super-star in journalism. Why? Why would a bunch of political appointees in a politically conservative Southern state decide to break from a policy of hands-off to meddle in an academic appointment?

Failure to tenure Nikole Hannah-Jones in her role as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism is a concerning departure from UNC’s traditional process and breaks precedent with previous tenured full professor appointments of Knight chairs in our school. This failure is especially disheartening because it occurred despite the support for Hannah-Jones’s appointment as a full professor with tenure by the Hussman Dean, Hussman faculty, and university. Hannah-Jones’s distinguished record of more than 20 years in journalism surpasses expectations for a tenured position as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism.

I think we have a clear case of Konservative Kancel Kulture at work. She’s one of the founders of the 1619 Project, and they reached out and stomped on her.

I’ll be waiting a long time before I hear the usual defenders of Academic Freedom and Free Speech Uber Alles say a single word about the decision, won’t I?


  1. says

    She’s black, it’s North Carolina…yeah, this stuff sort of writes itself, doesn’t it? Freeze peach and all that rot.

  2. biobengal says

    At my institution, tenure cannot be granted to those without the highest possible degree, typically the PhD. I suspect journalism could be different, and that those with an MA could be awarded tenure. Of course, I think this might vary by institution.

    I say this because if you look at Yamiche’s twitter post that has garnered a lot of attention, commenters mention her lack of the PhD (which is true) and her lack of an academic background (also true). However, that may not negate the fact that journalism may not require these things, especially since the offer was given in the first place.

  3. kome says

    A source over at the Slate article says the reason was purely politics. They also report that the UNC board has been leaning hard right for years.

  4. Erp says

    @2 biobengal I suspect even most institutions would waive if the achievements were high enough (e.g., candidate had a science Nobel though not a PhD or MD). Though state schools may be more tied than private institutions.

  5. numerobis says

    biobengal: such requirements can always be waived in exceptional cases, and in any case they’re what the tenure committee is supposed to rule on.

    UNC Chapel Hill is AAUP, so this is going to get fought in court.

  6. jakewildstrom says

    @2 biobengal: I’d venture that (assuming your institution works the way mine does) the departments for which that is a hard and fast requirement don’t offer people without terminal degrees a tenure-track position at all, unless they are in the process of pursuing such a degree with an intent of completing it before the tenure evaluation.

    But a quick perusal of the first few listed Knight Chairs (these are just in “journalism”; I don’t know if the IJAR fellowship is distinct or an expansion of the same award) shows a good number who have achieved tenured academic positions without terminal degrees. Bill Adair (Duke) and Rosental Alves (UTA) have only bachelor’s degrees; Sarah Cohen (ASU), Aly Colón (W&L), and Eric Freedman (Mich. State) have master’s degrees. Some do have doctoral degrees, of course: Jack Balkin (Yale) and Alberto Cairo (Miami) do. Likewise, some I couldn’t find evidence of tenure on a quick check (which doesn’t mean they don’t have tenure, just that I could not get definite indication of tenured rank from a quick look).

    But based on a quick perusal of the information available, it doesn’t look like not having a doctoral degree is generally a disqualification for tenure among Knight Chairs specifically (and maybe not for journalism generally; it’s a field whose academic labor pool draws from an unusually high number of non-doctoral professionals).

  7. garnetstar says

    Linus Pauling didn’t even have a high school degree, but that didn’t stop Cal Tech from tenuring him.

    Sorry UNC, but there is a slam-dunk lawsuit there which Hannah-Jones will win. Then she will take her awards and her MacArthur money to an equally pretigious chair in a tenured position at some more deserving university. Where she will flourish, and you will drive away future scholars of genius.

  8. PaulBC says

    Wow. That’s blatant. And yeah, her tenure was “canceled”. What a bunch of hypocrites.

    I don’t know enough about university hiring to guess, but could another university make an offer with expedited tenure, basically setting the process where it is right now? Universities are so weird. In tech, you just go and get a counteroffer.

  9. brucegee1962 says

    I would imagine this would also drive away students of color as well. A self-own all around.

  10. Akira MacKenzie says

    I think we have a clear case of Konservative Kancel Kulture at work.

    Hey! This is totally different! “Cancel Culture” is when “woke,” SJW, PC thought police silence and punish patriotic conservatives for doing nothing more than spreading The Truth and asking questions.

    What’s going on here are patriotic conservatives are trying to stop a Marxist, anti-American, racial agitator from using our schools and universities to spread the lies and slanders she makes against out great nation, its culture, its history, and its (cough… white) people!

    There! Do I have to explain the difference to you libs again? /s

  11. garnetstar says

    PaulBC @9 Yes, you can be hired “with tenure”. The new university offers you that, then they will do a quick whip-round to assemble a tenure dossier for you, which goes through the usual process, and that it is granted is a condition for you to accept the job.

    She’ll be snapped right up. The money alone will generate eager offers.

  12. Rich Woods says

    @brucegee1962 #10:

    I would imagine this would also drive away students of color as well. A self-own all around.

    There is perhaps a teeny-weeny, titchy-tiny, miniscule outside chance that the racists on the board were encouraged by that possibility.

  13. chris61 says

    I’d be very surprised if the board doesn’t back down. It really doesn’t look good for the university.

  14. anxionnat says

    Back in the early 1970s, my undergrad institution (UC Santa Barbara) began giving an award for teaching to an outstanding non-tenured faculty member. This award quickly came to be known as The Kiss of Death, because none of those faculty ever got tenure. Faculty denied tenure, who had gotten the award, included Scott Momaday, the Native American writer. He was denied tenure about a year after his book “House Made of Dawn” was published. I think it received the Pulitzer Prize. I remember several years when students protested vociferously and in large numbers when these talented faculty were denied tenure, despite their research, publication, and teaching records. Other institutions quickly snapped up those faculty, offering them tenured positions. It was UC Santa Barbara’s loss!

  15. R. L. Foster says

    I hear Lou Dobbs is out of work. Perhaps he’s UNC’s kind of journalist.

  16. Erp says

    @8 garnetstar Linus Pauling has a PhD from CalTech in 1925. He was offered a professorship at CalTech in 1927, tenured in 1929 and full professor in 1930 (this is remarkably fast work, my guess CalTech was afraid of him being tempted away).

    There have been Nobel Prize winners (outside of Literature and Peace) who did not have either at PhD or MD. For instance Tu Youyou 2015 (Physiology or Medicine) or Jack Kilby 2000 (Physics). Or those in western academia, Andrew Huxley 1963 (Physiology or Medicine).

  17. robert79 says

    A common joke I’ve heard is that if you have enough published high quality articles, all you need to do is put a staple through them to make a PhD thesis. It’s only when you don’t that you actually have to put some work in.

    I’m fairly sure that if you have a Nobel, the PhD requirement would be fairly straightforward if you were to care about it.

  18. says

    Actually, the usual suspects have all chimed in as expected with, paraphrased, “It’s not canceling when conservatives do it. Nothing to see here”…

  19. unclefrogy says

    small minded people do small minded things and reap many small returns.
    they really seem to want to go back to the 20’s and 30’s when the south was not experiencing the economic growth it has been experiencing lately.
    sad really
    uncle frogy

  20. whheydt says

    According the Slate article that was mentioned, the right-wing boards problem is not that she’s Black. It’s that she was a big part of the “1619 Project”.

  21. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    The assholes on the board can’t stand journalists, especially black journalists, not accepting their revisionist lies about the history of slavery. I’m not surprised.

  22. says

    the right-wing boards problem is not that she’s Black. It’s that she was a big part of the “1619 Project”.

    The problem is not that she’s Black. The problem is that she writes about Black people like they’re human beings who are just as much a part of the history and present of the USA as white people.

    I mean, she can BE Black so long as she doesn’t act like Black people are human, so long as she doesn’t give any indication that Black lives matter.

    That’s not racist. They’d shitcan the tenure of anyone who think Black folk are human beings whose lives are important to their society. Not racist at all.

  23. numerobis says

    Crip Dyke@18 : yeah but I dropped out of kindergarten.

    An old friend of mine finished her GED because it was a condition of getting her bachelors degree — she was already accepted into a Ph.D. program conditioned on the bachelors degree at that point. I suspect she could have skipped the GED without anyone really noticing.

  24. PaulBC says

    numerobis@25 Is this why I keep having those dreams where I’m back in high school and have to take an exam for a course I forgot I was taking? Maybe I didn’t finish after all and it’s going to catch up with me one day!

  25. darw1nner says

    UNC just bought a seven-figure lawsuit. And lost a top-flight scholar. Way to double down on their racism.

  26. johnson catman says

    UNC-Chapel Hill has always been a thorn in the side of republicans because it has been a hotbed of liberalism. Those republicans have tried everything they can to stomp on that, and this is just another attempt to do so. By appointing conservatives to the Board of Governors, they are doing their best to rein in any attempts to remain a “liberal arts” university.

  27. raven says

    Quillette is not a reliable or reputable source for anything.
    You just vaporized your credibility.

    Get real Russell, if Quillette is all you have, you’ve got nothing.

  28. Russell says

    Got anything substantive , Paul?

    Raven can get back to us if he ever summons the courage to read as far as the title.

    If Hannah-Jones doesn’t have a problem with Jacobin, why are you running away from heterodoxy at Quillette?

  29. raven says

    Russell the right wingnut troll:

    Raven can get back to us if he ever summons the courage to read as far as the title.

    Quillette is trash. You might just as well have cited Fox NoNews, Breitbart, Stormfront, OAN, or Newsmax.
    My time is valuable and I won’t waste it on trash. I notice no one else bothered with the garbage website either.

    As I thought, you’ve got nothing.

    BTW, you are the one making a positive claim. It’s up to you to prove it, not up to us to waste our time.
    Why don’t you get an education, a life, and a functioning brain and get back to us after you learn something from the real world.

  30. raven says

    Wikipedia 1619 project

    On May 4, 2020, the Pulitzer Prize Board announced the award of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary to project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones for her introductory essay to the 1619 Project.[10][11]

    Hannah-Jones has a Pulitzer prize.
    Russell the troll just seems to be a dull witted troll.

    I Helped Fact-Check the 1619 Project. The Times Ignored Me.
    The paper’s series on slavery made avoidable mistakes. But the attacks from its critics are much more dangerous. By LESLIE M. HARRIS 03/06/2020 05:10 AM EST

    Leslie M. Harris is professor of history at Northwestern University, and author of In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626-1863 and Slavery and the University: Histories and Legacies.

    But the debates playing out now on social media and in op-eds between supporters and detractors of the 1619 Project misrepresent both the historical record and the historical profession. The United States was not, in fact, founded to protect slavery—but the Times is right that slavery was central to its story. And the argument among historians, while real, is hardly black and white. Over the past half-century, important foundational work on the history and legacy of slavery has been done by a multiracial group of scholars who are committed to a broad understanding of U.S. history—one that centers on race without denying the roles of other influences or erasing the contributions of white elites. An accurate understanding of our history must present a comprehensive picture, and it’s by paying attention to these scholars that we’ll get there.

    This isn’t meant for Russell. I’m sure he is too dumb to read an entire paragraph.

    The problem with the 1619 project is that it did have on mistake, attributing the Revolutionary war to preserving slavery.
    It also got a huge amount of other history right.
    This matters.

    Because for two centuries, whites and white racists have been downplaying US slavery and its effects on our society. To this day, a lot of Southern whites and some Northern whites will still tell you slavery wasn’t all that bad and the happy Black people played their banjos all night after a day in the fields.
    The reality was a lot different, much more brutal and vicious.
    Of course, none of the whites past or present has any interest whatsoever in…being a slave.

  31. raven says

    Southern GOP leader defends slavery because … – Reddit › politics › comments › souther…

    May 5, 2021 — Southern GOP leader defends slavery because “many of the slaves loved their masters”.

    This is the sort of trash that passes for history in Russell’s murky world.
    GOP leaders say stuff like this often.

    No, the slaves didn’t love their masters.
    They risked death to run away any time they thought they might make it to freedom.
    In fact, the South lived in constant fear that the slaves would rebel and they just might win.
    That is what happened in Haiti and everyone knew it.

    And, this is why we need something like the 1619 project.

  32. Russell says

    The parochial is strong in this one

    What kind of trolls write for The Guardian, The Nation, and , er, The New York Times ?

    If you get back to us with your bibliography , we can trade substantive insults, , but it might be more constructive for you to actually read the piece I linked , at risk of being forced to think ,and write for yourself, for a change.

    As a certain German philosopher once remarked,
    Wovon Mann nicht sprechen kann, daruber muss Mann schweigen.</i.

    Over to you , PZ.

  33. Russell says

    The preemptive answer to Raven’s reply is ;

    What ?
    Don’t you read the Graun , the Nation and The Times ?
    If you do, then you’ve been reading , me, and thus can learn further from reading what I read elswhere and report in their pages.

    If you don’t , might you be trolling ?


  34. John Morales says


    The parochial is strong in this one
    Blustering irrelevance. Indicates you can't address the substance.
    What kind of trolls write for The Guardian, The Nation, and , er, The New York Times ?
    More irrelevance. Disputes nothing.
    If you get back to us with your bibliography , we can trade substantive insults, , but it might be more constructive for you to actually read the piece I linked , at risk of being forced to think ,and write for yourself, for a change.
    The pattern is now clear. More bluster.
    As a certain German philosopher once remarked,
    Wovon Mann nicht sprechen kann, daruber muss Mann schweigen.</i.
    Irony abounds.
    Over to you , PZ.
    No need. I am here.

  35. John Morales says


    If you don’t , might you be trolling ?

    Be aware raven is a long-time regular here.
    Someone I respect.
    Not a troll.

  36. Russell says

    Irony abounds.
    Over to you , PZ.
    No need. I am here.

    John, is your last name Myers?

    PZ ‘s publications are far more interesting than his commetariat’s craven bafflegab – you lot are quite indistinguishable from the loons cheering on Breitbart or a Climate Denial blog like Watts Up With That ?

    So stop pleading Ignoramus and read the bloody link!


  37. John Morales says


    I’ve read the link, since you couldn’t manage to wrap in in an anchor tag.

    (“liberal elites”, oh my! ;) )

  38. KG says

    I read Russell’s link. It’s ignorant, meretricious trash.

    The 1619 Project ignores historical and economic conditions that might make slavery comparable to other forms of exploitation—chattel slavery and serfdom being two premodern examples, and the wage slavery of industrial capitalism being another. In doing so, it furthers a cherished liberal rallying cry of our time: that interracial solidarity among the working class is simply impossible—better not even to try to establish a universalist critique of capitalism.

    The term “chattel slavery” refers precisely to the form of slavery inflicted on slaves in the USA prior to 1865; it’s ignorant nonsense to counterpose it to the latter as something “comparable”. As for “the wage slavery of industrial capitalism” being comparable to slavery, this is simply a way of minimising the evil of the latter in the service of current racism. The author, Catherine Liu, appears to be an admirer of the ridiculous sectlet styling itself as the “International Committee of the Fourth International”, which denies the significance of racism and sexism, claiming that opposition to them is simply a means of dividing the working class and avoiding discussion of economic inequality (apparently not noticing that opposition to racism, sexism and economic inequality are in fact strongly correlated) and accuses everyone else on the left of being defenders of capitalism. That she’s publishing in the repulsive and reactionary Quillette, comfortable home to racists and rapists, probably tells you most of what you need to know about her.

  39. Rob Grigjanis says

    Russell @44: I find it amusing that far-right criticism accuses the project of anti-capitalism (by associating capitalism with slavery), and Trotskyist criticism accuses it of pro-capitalism (by dividing the working class). If you’re pissing off the nutbars on both sides, you must be doing something right, even if your first draft gets some facts wrong.

  40. KG says

    Rob Grigjanis@45,
    The extent to which the particular Trot sectlet Catherine Liu appears to be aligned with, is itself aligned with the right-wing hatred of and obsession with “woke”, and Liu’s willingness to publish in Quillette,makes me wonder if it’s gone the way of the UK’s “Revolutionary Communist Party”, which flipped over to the “libertarian” right (if indeed it wasn’t a false front from the start), one of its acolytes now being a key advisor to Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson – who of course claims to be a defender of working class people against the “liberal elite”.

  41. KG says

    While it’s certainly not the case that the American War of Indepedence was launched to defend slavery (because the British Government wasn’t attacking it), once the war started the latter offered the slaves of rebels freedom, and recruited considerable numbers to the British forces, so slaveholders among the rebels were certainly fighting to keep or regain their slaves. Simon Schama’s Rough Crossings is a fascinating account of what happened to these slaves. (Short answer: many of the promises made to them were broken, but some ended up as free settlers in Sierra Leone, where some became the first black elected office-holders in the British Empire, and some women among them seem to have had the right to vote.)

    One bone of contention between the British and the colonists was the pace of land theft from the Indians (the British wanted a temporary halt, the colonists to go ahead at full speed) – I don’t know whether the 1619 Project covered that. All in all, the “American Revolution” is best seen as a falling-out among thieves and slavers.

  42. says

    Another troll that can only try to bully you into reading their things for them because they can’t actually defend their own positions. Couldn’t tie their positive claims to a link-drop if it could save their lives. Russell is another gnat without a swarm.

  43. raven says

    I’m going to put this here on a FYI basis.
    We in the USA in the past were not taught much of anything in public schools about either slavery or the Civil War. When I was in school, the Civil War was still about States RIghts and slavery was sort of an after thought.
    It was highly slanted and superficial history.
    That is what the 1619 project is attempting to address.

    What I never knew is just how important and how much slavery warped Southern society. In some places, slaves outnumbered whites.
    Slave revolts in the Caribbean were common and one in Haiti was successful.
    The South was never able to rest easy. Slave revolts were always going to be a possibility and there was always the possibility that one day, they would end up like Haiti.
    Slaves don’t have much to lose. The difference between being a slave and being dead just isn’t that great.

    The root of this dread lay in simple mathematics. For every one slaveholder living in the South on the eve of Civil War in 1860, there were ten African Americans, whether free or enslaved (or just under 400,000 slaveholders against 4.2 million blacks). Although the total white population of the South stood at 8 million, African Americans actually outnumbered whites in South Carolina and Mississippi and came close to doing so in several other states. And in certain districts, whites made up only a tiny portion of the total population. What they lacked in numerical strength, however, slaveholders made up for in superiority of arms. From colonial times onward, Southern legislatures enacted and enforced a variety of increasingly stringent slave codes designed to keep African Americans firmly under control: They were generally forbidden from traveling without their master’s explicit permission; they were not allowed to be taught to read or write; large gatherings and some religious activities were prohibited; they were not permitted to carry a weapon; and their masters could discipline them in whatever manner they deemed appropriate. In order to enforce these rules and avert a full-scale rebellion, regular slave patrols were organized.

  44. Rob Grigjanis says

    KG @47: The American rebels must have been aware of the growing abolitionist movement in the UK, and court cases ruling, in effect, that slavery was illegal in England.

    As a result [of a 1772 decision], by 1774, between 10,000 and 15,000 slaves gained freedom in England.

    I don’t know how much the rebels might have seen this as “writing on the wall”, but the proximity to 1775 doesn’t exactly discourage speculation.

  45. KG says

    Rob Grigjanis@50,

    Well, maybe, but there was also an anti-slavery movement in the American colonies and conversely, it wasn’t until the 1830s that slavery was abolished in the British Empire.

  46. stroppy says

    Russell @ 44
    So the NYT gave Bret Sephens, a neocon AGW denier, space to blurble and opine in ways you’d expect on the op-ed pages– a low bar. And true to form he said, not much really.

    For a moment I thought you might be Russell Seitz who periodically shows up on different science blogs as an entertaining, if somewhat infuriating gadfly, but no, either you’ve been hit on the head with a coconut and lost your mojo, or you’re not the real deal.