Over the summer, the University of North Carolina Chapel-Hill announced its plan to offer Nikole Hannah-Jones, the creator of the 1619 project, a tenured position in the Hussman School of Journalism as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Reporting. However, the Board of Trustees pushed the controversial decision to a vote, electing to hire Jones but not offer her tenure. The entire controversy is explained in depth here.
NC Policy Watch reported that Jones easily passed the initial review process, but “political pressure from conservatives” influenced the decision. A member of the board told Policy Watch, “This is a very political thing. The University…and the legislature have all been getting pressure since this thing was first announced last month.”
The attempt to shift blame to the conservatives for the politicization of education moves attention away from the actual failure of our university system: tenure. Despite her controversial and biased record as a journalist, Policy Watch reported that Jones passed the initial review process among faculty with ease, only facing pushback from the Board of Trustees. The lack of opposition to Jones’s hiring indicates that no professor on the tenure review board objected to Jones receiving tenure. Following the release of the 1619 Project in the New York Times, 5 Princeton professors sent a letter to the magazine pointing out the numerous historical inaccuracies contained in the paper. The move forced The Times to issue multiple retractions on the project.
Furthermore, Jones has never held a teaching position, yet she faced no obstacles in the initial review process. You would expect that the partisan nature of Jones’s work would be a cause of concern for the Journalism Department that preaches the importance of “impartiality” in its mission statement. However, the corruption of the tenure process by far-left university faculty distorted the process to push their far-left agenda.
Whether or not one agrees with the Board of Trustees’ decision, it is clear that the liberalism’s hold over academia prevents conservatives from being hired. A study from 2018 concluded that among the top 66 liberal arts colleges in the country, 39% did not have a single registered Republican professor. Among the remaining 61%, the average is barely more than zero. The political homogeneity within academia is perpetuated through the tenure system used to hire like-minded colleagues to lifelong positions.
Tenure for professors entered popular discourse in the late 1700s to protect academic freedom in religious schools. In 1940, The American Association of University Professors adopted novel standards on tenure, suggesting that professors should be granted continuous employment after a probationary period. This decision by the AAUP prompted formal legislation aimed at eliminating dismissals resulting from social or political retaliation across all higher education. Today, tenured professors are guaranteed jobs for life at their universities and cannot be fired for poor performance, resulting in a lower-quality education. In order to even be considered for tenured positions, applicants must first pass through a slew of peer approvals and recommendation requirements which prove impossible if the candidate does not align ideologically with their peers. As a result, the broken tenure model produces a completely homogeneous pool of potential professors who seek to pass their ideology on to open-minded students once hired.
When considering the inner workings of the tenure system, it is not surprising that Nikole Hannah-Jones faced zero pushback from other professors. If leftists truly loathe the politicization of higher education, then they must restore the tenure process to return it to its original intent of fostering free thought among students and faculty. In the interest of building a university system that engenders critical thinkers rather than indoctrinated ideologues, faculty must begin to prioritize students over political gain.