Posted on June 24, 2021

Some Black UNC Faculty Feel ‘Undervalued,’ Consider Leaving Over Tenure Controversy

Kate Murphy, News & Observer, June 18, 2021

About 20 Black faculty and staff at UNC-Chapel Hill say they are considering leaving the university because they feel undervalued on campus, particularly in light of journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones not being offered tenure.

Members of the Carolina Black Caucus took a poll at their regularly scheduled Zoom meeting this week and found that 70% of the about 30 attendees are considering leaving UNC-CH and more than 60% of them are actively looking for other jobs. The group announced the news in a tweet Wednesday.

The Carolina Black Caucus is made up of about 250 faculty, staff graduate students and alumni who advocate for equal rights across campus for Black faculty, staff and community members.

“We feel as though we’re treated differently when it comes to things like tenure, raises and promotions,” said Jaci Field, co-chair of the group’s advocacy committee. “We feel like we’re generally undervalued at Carolina.”

Field is also the director of the Eddie Smith Field House in the UNC Athletics Department.

Though just 30 members were in attendance Wednesday, Field said they think this poll is endemic of the climate for all Black people at UNC. Black employees feel uncomfortable at Carolina and don’t want to stay, she said.

“It’s been a conversation that we’ve been having for a couple of years,” Field said. “The Nikole Hannah-Jones situation really just brings the issue to the forefront.”

Hannah-Jones, who is a Black woman, is set to join the faculty at UNC-CH in July as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media. The UNC campus Board of Trustees has not offered Hannah-Jones tenure for that position, which previous Knight Chairs at UNC-CH have received. She is best known for her Pulizter Prize-winning work on The 1619 Project, which aims to reframe the country’s history by putting slavery and Black Americans at the center of it.

The issue has caused national outrage among professional journalists, scholars and UNC-CH faculty, alumni and students who have defended Hannah-Jones and demanded she get tenure. Critics have pointed to race and politics as the reasons behind the board’s decisions, particularly surrounding The 1619 Project.

And at least one top faculty recruit withdrew her candidacy because of the situation.

Hannah-Jones’s attorneys threatened a federal lawsuit in May, saying UNC-CH “unlawfully discriminated against Hannah-Jones based on the content of her journalism and scholarship and because of her race.” {snip}

“Especially over the last year and a half, this is exactly what we’ve been trying to describe to everyone,” Field said. “This very situation is the definition of systemic racism.”

UNC-CH has 226 Black or African American full-time faculty members as of Fall 2020, according to a university report. And 69 of them have tenure, which is about 30%. Black and African American faculty members also make up less than 5% of the total tenured faculty. There are more than 4,000 total full-time faculty members at UNC-CH.

About 8% of UNC-CH’s student body are Black or African American students.

Student Body President Lamar Richards, who is Black, tweeted this week that he’s spoken to more than a dozen incoming undergraduate students of color and their families over the past week who are concerned about the campus environment.

Richards said “many, if not all, of them are reconsidering coming to Carolina” and he firmly supports that decision.

“I love my people too much & UNC is not worthy of us. Period,” Richards said.


It’s understandable why students and faculty wouldn’t feel safe coming to Carolina, Field said.


What can be done to change the minds of Black faculty who want to leave the university? The first step is to honor the tenure process and grant Hannah-Jones the tenure appointment she deserves, Field said.