The University of North Carolina (UNC) has not offered tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones, the founder of The New York Times‘s discredited “1619 Project,” even though UNC’s Chapel Hill campus often extends tenure to professors who hold a Knight Chair professorship. The denial of tenure followed conservative opposition to UNC’s move in hiring Hannah-Jones, whose 1619 Project pushes Marxist critical race theory, divides Americans by race, and arguably helped inspire the Black Lives Matter and antifa riots last summer.
“This is a very political thing,” a member of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees told NC Policy Watch about the decision. “The university and the board of trustees and the Board of Governors and the legislature have all been getting pressure since this thing was first announced last month. There have been people writing letters and making calls, for and against. But I will leave it to you which is carrying more weight.”
On Wednesday, Policy Watch reported that UNC “changed its plan” to offer Hannah-Jones tenure, a protected status that amounts to a career-long appointment. Instead, Hannah-Jones will start a fixed five-year term as Professor of Practice on July 1, 2021, with the option of getting reviewed for tenure at the end of that time period.
Last month, UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism announced that Hannah-Jones would become the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism, taking a Knight Chair professorship, endowed by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The professorship brings top professionals to classrooms to teach and mentor students.
While not all Knight Chair professorships are tenured, all of the Knight Chair professors teaching at the Chapel Hill campus have been tenured since 1980, when UNC began working with the foundation. It seems the university offered Hannah-Jones a fixed-term position in part because such positions do not require board approval.
“It was a work-around,” the trustee told Policy Watch. “It’s maybe not a solution that is going to please everyone. Maybe it won’t please anyone. But if this was going to happen, this was the way to get it done.”
Last week, the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal’s Shannon Watkins argued that UNC-Chapel Hill’s board of trustees must prevent the hiring of the 1619 Project founder. “Unfortunately, in North Carolina, the UNC system has not proven itself capable of preventing ‘activist-scholars’ from gaining positions within the university,” Watkins wrote. She urged reform to ensure that trustees are required to review every new hire.
Hannah-Jones’ major claim to fame, The 1619 Project, should arguably disqualify her from a teaching position. The project tried to flip American history on its head by arguing that America’s “true founding” came with the arrival of the first slaves in Virginia, not with the Declaration of Independence. Scholars immediately raised objections and the Times has issued a series of stealth corrections tacitly admitting that its project was based on a lie.
The 1619 Project twists American history along the lines of Marxist critical race theory, reframing many aspects of American life as rooted in race-based slavery and oppression, including capitalism, the consumption of sugar, and America’s rejection of 100 percent government-funded health care. The project goes right to the heart of America, featuring graphics crossing out “July 4, 1776” and replacing the founding date with “August 20, 1619.”
Until September 2020, the 1619 Project website had announced that the project “aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.” In September, the Times stealth-edited the website to remove the claim about 1619 being America’s “true founding” and the project’s founder, Nikole Hannah-Jones, told CNN that the project “does not argue that 1776 was not the founding of the country.” Psyche!
Historians have criticized the project for twisting the truth. For instance, there were black slaves, and black freedmen, in America for about a century before 1619. Whoops!
The Smithsonian Magazine disputed the 1619 Project, explaining that the Spanish brought slaves to present-day South Carolina in 1526.
“In 1526, enslaved Africans were part of a Spanish expedition to establish an outpost on the North American coast in present-day South Carolina. Those Africans launched a rebellion in November of that year and effectively destroyed the Spanish settlers’ ability to sustain the settlement, which they abandoned a year later. Nearly 100 years before Jamestown, African actors enabled American colonies to survive, and they were equally able to destroy European colonial ventures,” the magazine reported.
Ignoring these and other pre-1619 slaves “effectively erases the memory of many more African peoples than it memorializes,” the Smithsonian Magazine article argued. Therefore, the New York Times project “silences the memory of the more than 500,000 African men, women, and children who had already crossed the Atlantic against their will, aided and abetted Europeans in their endeavors, provided expertise and guidance in a range of enterprises, suffered, died, and – most importantly – endured.”
The New York Times also had to make a rather embarrassing correction shortly after launching the project. Hannah-Jones had claimed that “one of the primary reasons” the American colonists revolted against Britain in 1776 was to preserve the institution of slavery. Slavery was not one of the motivating factors of the revolution. In fact, the revolution disrupted slavery. The Times eventually posted a correction.
Citing these and other errors, scholars have demanded that the Pulitzer Prize board revoke the prize awarded to Hannah-Jones and the 1619 Project.
Of course, the 1619 Project is also false in a much deeper sense. Its narrative delegitimizes the very real benefits of American freedom and prosperity by claiming that racist oppression is the central truth behind the country’s ideals, while in truth the country was founded in pursuit of freedom and equality. Although the Founders allowed slavery to persist, they laid the groundwork to defeat it eventually.
Marxist critical race theory inspired much of the destruction of the Black Lives Matter and antifa riots over the summer. While protesters rightly expressed outrage at the treatment of George Floyd, many of the protests devolved into looting, vandalism, and arson in which lawless thugs — acting in the name of fighting racism — destroyed black lives, black livelihoods, and black monuments.
When vandals toppled a statue of George Washington in Portland, they spray-painted “1619” on it. When Claremont’s Charles Kesler wrote in The New York Post, “Call them the 1619 riots,” Hannah-Jones responded (in a since-deleted tweet) that “it would be an honor” to claim responsibility for the destructive riots.
Due to these and other reasons, lawmakers across the country are pushing back against the 1619 Project. Republican lawmakers have filed bills to stop the 1619 Project from invading schools in Arkansas (H.B. 1231), Iowa (H.F. 222), Mississippi (S.B. 2538), Missouri (H.B. 952), and South Dakota (H.B. 1158). These bills would cut funding to K-12 schools and colleges that use a curriculum based on the 1619 Project.
By hiring Nikole Hannah-Jones, UNC sent a chilling message to prospective conservative students who are considering journalism. Trustees were right to raise objections, and the school should reconsider aligning with this deceptive effort. This move away from granting Hannah-Jones a tenured position represents a small step in the right direction. It demonstrates that conservatives can make a difference by speaking out on such disturbing moves.