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June 22, 2021



Dear Members of the Board of Trustees:


I write to you as Chair of the Department of American Studies and with the members of our department in full support of the substance of this correspondence. I write to ask you to respect the concerted assessment of the faculty of the Hussman School of Journalism and hear the tenure case of Nikole Hannah-Jones. Given that UNC-Chapel Hill is a public institution and that all of our decisions, by and large, are public-facing and held to the highest standards of scrutiny, I ask that you communicate with the members of this campus and the community of scholars across the state about your decision-making process.


At this point, most of us on this campus and in this country understand that you refused to consider Ms. Hannah-Jones for tenure based upon concerns of an informal nature. At best, this relegates your decision-making process to errors of sentiment. At worst, you replicate the exclusion and prejudice articulated and enforced by the white citizen’s councils of the past. Whether this is your intent or not, you are duty-bound to explain your process to the good people of this institution and to the public that you serve.


I want to say also that I am the first African-descended, proudly out and female chair of this department in its 50-year history. I want that to sink in for a minute. While we might be able to have a debate about why it has taken so long for this to be the case, the numbers of African-descended women faculty at the leadership table at UNC make such a debate ludicrous. A fair-minded and equality-driven discussion among us would require us at least to make sure that the members of community at the table of ideas reflect the population of this state. They do not. Your failure to vote on Nikole Hannah-Jones’s tenure denigrates the work that we engage in as African-descended scholars, while it creates a climate on this campus where BIPOC faculty colleagues will bear the brunt of your refusal because they will be called to account for both your lack of transparency and for those whose emotions guide them more than any appeal to their rational selves. This is an intolerable burden that you cannot ask BIPOC faculty to shoulder simply because you believe a discursive and methodologically tested intervention in a discussion of our nation’s history hurts your collective feeling in some way. And this burden is already being felt as BIPOC faculty across the university either leave for appointments elsewhere or decline to accept our invitation to join us in the next year.


We are asking you to serve the great state of North Carolina, a chorus of many, and not just the privileged few. Each day you decline to reverse your decision, you do irreparable damage to our university’s reputation in the world at large and demoralize our faculty, students and staff who do not deserve to be treated as if their voices do not matter and cannot count.






Sharon P. Holland

Chair and Townsend Ludington Distinguished Professor of American Studies