Chapel Hill, N.C. — Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz met Wednesday with Black faculty members to discuss their concerns about the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s efforts to improve diversity and inclusion on campus.
The meeting comes amid anger on campus and nationwide over the university’s reluctance to grant tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones, a Pultizer Prize-winning journalist.
The UNC Black Caucus announced last week that 70 percent of its members were thinking about leaving the university, and more than half were actively searching for jobs elsewhere.
Sibby Anderson Thompkins, a UNC-Chapel Hill alumna who serves as the school’s provost for equity and inclusion and interim chief diversity officer, is among those leaving.
“For me, the decision to leave really came to a head with the whole Nikole Hannah-Jones tenure case,” Thompkins said. “We have espoused this strong value of community and belonging and standing against racial inequity, and yet, we are still making decisions that are very inconsistent with what we say are our values.”
Hannah-Jones, a UNC-Chapel Hill alumna and a New York Times reporter, was hired in April as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at the university’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media. She won the Pulitzer, a Peabody Award and a so-called “genius grant” from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for “The 1619 Project” about slavery’s impact on America.
Her lawyers have notified university officials that she won’t start work in Chapel Hill next week, as scheduled, without tenure.
Thompkins said that UNC-Chapel Hill received “a poor rating” for how it prioritizes equity and inclusion in a survey conducted last fall. She said the university has a “cognitive dissonance” between what administrators list as their priorities and how they act.
“I think that there is a crisis here in terms of who we are as an institution [and] as a campus, what our values are and how is that reflected in our decision-making,” she said.
Sharon Holland, chairwoman of the Department of American Studies, agrees.
“Four generations of Black women in my family had to walk by ‘Silent Sam,'” Holland said of the Confederate statue that stood on campus for more than a century before protesters pulled it down in 2018. “I don’t think UNC is becoming anything other than what it already was.”
The main reason that she isn’t following Thompkins out the door is that she hasn’t been applying for jobs.
“Those jobs take a while,” she said. “I wasn’t on the market officially this year. It was my first year chairing my department, and I felt like I had the responsibility to shepherd us through this most difficult time.”
The Hannah-Jones tenure controversy is pushing her toward leaving, however.
“To make this kind of decision in the wake of what we’ve been through this year is particularly hard to stomach,” Holland said. “It’s hard to stay when someone who reflects your values as an intellectual, someone like Nikole Hannah-Jones, is being treated so unprofessionally.”
Guskiewicz said he hopes that he can change that perspective by meeting with Black faculty members.
“It has always been my goal to build a community where everyone truly knows they belong and are valued for their own unique perspectives and experiences,” he said in a statement. “I am deeply concerned that some members of the Carolina Black community do not feel they can thrive in this environment.”
UNC-Chapel Hill officials pointed to several faculty diversity initiatives on campus, from salary supplements to help recruit minority faculty to a mentoring program.
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