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The Carolina Asia Center stands with the other centers and departments at UNC in urging the UNC Board of Trustees to immediately offer Nikole Hannah-Jones the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism position with tenure.

As a Pulitzer Prize winner and a MacArthur Foundation “genius” Fellowship recipient with many other accolades and accomplishments in the field of investigative journalism, Hannah-Jones is eminently qualified for the position and enthusiastically supported by the faculty and Dean of the Hussman School of Journalism and Media for the Knight Chair position with tenure.

We believe that the UNC Board of Trustees’ decision not to consider or offer Nikole Hannah-Jones tenure in the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media—as recommended by numerous academic boards that reviewed her file before it reached the BOT—is egregious in many aspects. It undermines years of efforts made by university staff, faculty, and students to dismantle institutional racism to build a strong, diverse, and inclusive campus climate. Many units on campus, including the Carolina Asia Center, have worked hard to provide programs to fight against institutional racism and support BIPOC students and faculty. The BOT’s decision goes against the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion that UNC strives to uphold and improve.

By refusing to vote for tenure for a well-qualified candidate who has received all the requisite academic reviews and endorsements, the BOT also threatens the self-governance of the university on academic affairs and hiring decisions. As a center engaged in the study of Asia, we have seen in recent years examples of non-experts overruling the academic self-governance of universities in Hong Kong,[1] India,[2] and Thailand,[3] among other places. Thus, we know that this kind of interference in academic self-governance harms societal dialogue on important issues, tarnishes local governments and damages the reputation of the universities involved. The Board’s decision has greatly damaged the reputation of the University of North Carolina and put the university in the national spotlight for the wrong reasons.

We call on the Board to take full responsibility for jeopardizing the university’s national and international reputations and damaging its potential to become a world-leading university with high moral and ethical standards. One of the Board of Trustees’ general duties is “aiding the university to perform at a high level of excellence in every area of endeavor,”[4] but the BOT’s actions on Nikole Hannah-Jones’ case demonstrate that the Board has deviated from its duty.

The Carolina Asia Center believes that UNC should be a place where diverse faculty, students, and staff are welcomed and their talents are recognized. We believe that the normal regulations and procedures for academic self-governance should be respected, or full accountability should be made for any deviations. Therefore, we denounce the BOT’s decision to deny Nikole Hannah-Jones tenure by not voting on the recommendation of the school and the faculty, and we call on the Board of Trustees to rectify this immediately so as to affirm its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

[1] Timothy McLaughlin, “How Academic Freedom Ends,” The Atlantic, June 6, 2021: .

[2] Ellie Bothwell, “Gag Placed on Indian Academics,” Times Higher Education, October 26, 2018: ; Nandini Sundar and Gowhar Fazili, “Academic Freedom In India: A Status Report, 2020,” The India Forum, August 28, 2020: .

[3] Tyrell Haberkorn, “The fate of academic freedom in Thailand,” East Asia Forum, January 10, 2019: ; Association for Asian Studies Statement on Academic Freedom in Thailand, April 7, 2021: .

[4] Section 3.01, “General Powers and Duties,” UNC Chapel Hill Board of Trustees Bylaws: .

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