Thanks, Nikole Hannah-Jones – Q City Metro
Jennifer Watson Roberts is a former mayor of Charlotte and a former member of the Mecklenburg County Council of Commissioners. Read more of his opinion pieces here.
It is encouraging to see the recent response to the controversy over the initial denial of Nikole Hannah-Jones a term at the University of North Carolina.
It has also been painful, especially for Ms. Hannah-Jones herself, and for many journalists and academics who can relate to her experiences. But it is encouraging that so many people have been shocked by this injustice.
The fact that the reactions were swift, broad, and covered by media, blogs and media across the country gives me hope that the American consciousness at large is awakening in a way it would not have. maybe not ten years ago.
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For those who haven’t been following closely, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Hannah-Jones has been offered a position as Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at the Hussman School of Journalism at UNC Chapel Hill, but with only a five-year contract. Unlike all the other Knight Chairs who had been tenured with the post, Hannah-Jones was initially turned down due to unease for some, including a very large donor, over the conclusions drawn in her 1619 project – findings that underscore the widespread harm that systemic racism has caused throughout the history of the United States.
As per her research findings, that same system backfired on her, as an African American woman, and concerns raised by influential white men shut the door on her advancement. With mounds of public pressure, the board ultimately voted to give her her term, but she decided to accept a Howard University tenure offer instead.
In a letter explaining her decision to go to Howard (to read), she wrote: “The last few weeks have been very dark. To be treated so miserably by my alma mater, by a university that gave me so much and to which I was only looking to give back, was deeply painful.
“The only shining light has been all of the people who have spoken out and fought back against the dangerous attack on academic freedom that sought to punish me for the nature of my work, attacks that black and marginalized professors face across the country. . “
His words resonate here. As a former UNC student, it was painful to see all the national attention given to a grim truth about the past and present leadership of our flagship state university.
Equally painful is hearing the stories of continued discrimination faced by students and faculty of color, not only at UNC, but in institutions across the country. But I am encouraged by the response. I have been encouraged to read the letters, editorials and voices of students, faculty and staff at UNC. I have seen many people of all races and ethnicities speak out against the decision on social media, including former UNC students around the world, calling on their alma mater to do better and to break down the prejudices that surround it. infect too many of our American institutions.
But we also need to look to the real centers of authority and hold them accountable. The Board of Governors and the Board of Trustees, which decide university policy, are political appointments. Within the board of directors, eight are appointed by the board of governors, four by the general assembly of the NC and one is the current president of the student body of the UNC. And the Board of Governors, in turn, is all appointed by the General Assembly, making it a highly politicized board.
Only one current member, Joel Ford, is a Democrat and his votes have often aligned with those of Republicans. In essence, the policies of our state university are governed by the General Assembly and its Republican leadership.
In terms of academic freedom, this is a real problem. To change that, we need to change our representatives. We have seen how the current General Assembly has increasingly interfered with decisions that should be non-partisan. They have acted to increase and expand power in a way that goes against the supposed conservative principle of a small government and less government intrusion into our daily lives.
If we are to give researchers and academics the freedom they need to explore new ideas, discoveries, perspectives, and problem-solve in an increasingly complex world, they cannot live in constant fear that their ideas or discoveries cost them their jobs. I’m not saying there are easy answers here, as there is a line to be drawn somewhere when professors expound ideas that incite violence, or racial supremacy, or theories without scientific basis assessed by peers. But Nikole Hannah-Jones’ writings did not come close to that line.
I disagree with those who call for a boycott of the UNC by donors and alumni. Those in power in the General Assembly would be happy to see our university system decline, as many of them believe that higher education gives students too many liberal ideas in the first place.
I cannot pretend to speak for the current faculty and students and their tough decisions. But I can speak from my authentic perspective as a white alumnus who knows that our flagship university works best, for itself and for our community, when it does diversity, equity, value. inclusion and justice of fundamental values.
Our university needs support on its journey to continue to realize these values, recognize its difficult past, better support a diverse student body and faculty, and become a leader in inclusive and affordable higher education.
I ask other alumni to use their voice and their money to support current and future teachers and students of color in the fields of study that are important to them. I myself intend to make a large donation to the university for this purpose, for a program to be announced later this year.
I hope others will join me and help bring about the changes that we know must happen, as our state will fare much better with a quality public university system than without. And finally, those concerned about the Hannah-Jones incident now have one more reason to vote this coming year, when every member of the General Assembly is eligible for re-election.
Nikole Hannah-Jones gave us all one more reason to recognize systemic racism in North Carolina, work to end it, pay attention to the power structure, advocate for change, and vote.
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