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The African Studies Center (ASC) and Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies (CMEIS) value and uphold the principles of academic freedom. This freedom is necessary for us to conduct research, teaching, and service that furthers the interests of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the people of North Carolina. This principle has been seriously undermined by recent decisions, or delays in making decisions, by the Board of Trustees. We specifically condemn the delay to take up the vote on the offer of a tenured professorship to Nikole Hannah-Jones. Despite a clear record of international distinction, a Pulitzer Prize, a MacArthur Fellowship, election to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, the endorsement of UNC’s School of Journalism, the university tenure and promotion committee, faculty consulted outside the university, and the University’s dean and provost, the Board of Trustees failed to consider her case for tenure. This flagrant interference on plainly political grounds represents a clear and unacceptable breach of academic freedom and self-governance. The decision also directly contradicts UNC’s own stated devotion to furthering intellectual diversity. Most importantly, it undermines the ability of faculty to conduct their research and teaching free from political influence and persecution. The refusal to grant Hannah-Jones tenure that she has earned has exacerbated the poor racial climate at UNC and contributed to the ongoing loss of dozens of faculty of color and indigenous faculty who have left to work at other universities.  We are compelled to speak up about this ongoing inequity on our own campus.

We call on the Board of Trustees to uphold the principle of academic freedom and refrain from political interference in academic matters. We request that the BOT grant Nikole Hannah-Jones tenure in her position as Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism and we call on all members of the UNC community – our faculty colleagues and especially our administrative leadership, as well as students and alumni – to continue to call for Nikole Hannah-Jones’ tenure.

As centers engaged in the study of Africa and the Middle East, we have seen in recent years examples of non-experts overruling the academic self-governance of universities in Egypt,  Turkey, and Zambia, 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,” but the BOT’s actions on Nikole Hannah-Jones’ case demonstrate that the Board has deviated from its duty.

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