The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has reached a settlement with journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones following the months-long battle last year over her initially not being offered tenure at the university.
UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees Chair David Boliek confirmed the settlement to The News & Observer Friday.
The settlement was for less than $75,000 and was approved by Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, Boliek said.
Hannah-Jones is an investigative journalist for The New York Times who was hired last spring as UNC’s Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media.
Any settlement reached by public universities in the state for less than $75,000 is able to be approved under the sole authority of the university’s chancellor, according to the UNC Policy Manual. No settlement requires a vote from the university’s Board of Trustees, though settlements for higher sums of money require approval from the UNC System president or the system’s Board of Governors, depending on the exact amount of money involved.
Attorneys representing Hannah-Jones, including the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc., last year threatened to take legal action, including filing a federal discrimination lawsuit, against UNC-Chapel Hill and its Board of Trustees over the failure to give her tenure, The N&O previously reported.
Boliek told The N&O Friday that the settlement reached by the university was to resolve that “potential legal action,” and that a formal lawsuit was never filed by Hannah-Jones’ attorneys.
“The steps taken to resolve the lingering potential legal action posed by Ms. Hannah-Jones will hopefully help to close this chapter and give the University the space to focus on moving forward,” Boliek said in a statement to The News & Observer.
In a statement provided to The N&O by UNC Media Relations, UNC Associate Vice Chancellor of University Communications Beth Keith said the settlement is “an important step forward as Carolina focuses on its future and continues to educate the next generation of leaders.”
“As a part of the agreement, the University will accelerate its investment in crucial initiatives in Carolina Next, its strategic plan, to further that ongoing work,” the statement read. The university said the statement was “all the information we have to share at this time” and did not provide more information what what those “crucial initiatives” were.
Knight Chair positions have historically been tenured at the school, but when Hannah-Jones’ tenure candidacy was first presented to the Board of Trustees in January 2021, they never voted on it, so it was not approved. Hannah-Jones was instead offered a fixed-term contract, with the option of being reviewed for tenure within five years.
The lack of tenure initially offered to Hannah-Jones ignited a national controversy, with hundreds of scholars, journalism professionals, UNC faculty, alumni and students advocating for Hannah-Jones.
Amid the controversy, the Board of Trustees later called a vote on Hannah-Jones’ tenure, voting 9-4 to grant her tenure, but Hannah-Jones declined to come to UNC and instead accepted a position to be an inaugural Knight Chair at Howard University.
This story was originally published July 15, 2022 12:25 PM.
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