Dear Carolina Community:
At last, a difficult chapter has come to a conclusion. Yesterday, the UNC Board of Trustees met to consider Nikole Hannah-Jones’ tenure dossier and then voted to grant her tenure. Afterwards, someone sent me a message describing the outcome as bittersweet. For a moment, allow me to focus on the sweet. On June 19th, I wrote to you and asked you to use your voice to help the Board of Trustees understand why the tenure of Nikole Hannah-Jones is important, to let them know that the choices they would make would extend far beyond the personal fortunes of any one person, that their decision would determine whether we were a campus where excellence, not ideological agreement, was the bar. And you responded in a dramatic fashion. Over the course of a week and a half, at least 85 deans, departments, faculty, staff and student groups, institutes and centers, and committees stopped what they were doing to compose beautifully written, clearly articulated letters to the Board of Trustees. You can see the wide-ranging collection here. In addition, alumnae and myriad individuals on this campus wrote directly to the BOT, to their elected representatives and to news outlets sharing their perspectives on why this vote was so important. I am also aware that a number of letters were transmitted privately to the Board. As the letters poured in, I felt like George Bailey standing by his Christmas tree watching his community come together to help. There are moments, even in hardship, when it is indeed a wonderful life.
Your work as faculty and staff, along with the work of the UNC Black Caucus; The Black Student Movement; our student body president, Lamar Richards; our provost, Bob Blouin; and our chancellor, Kevin Guskiewicz, came together to bring this good result. Rarely, if ever, is anything significant accomplished alone. And, because other efforts have been so well highlighted, I want to speak briefly about our provost and chancellor. Diplomacy in these situations is critical. Much of it is education done behind the scenes and is often a thankless task. Our provost and chancellor have done that work in this situation. We owe them our gratitude. In addition to thanking them and all of you, I want to extend sincere thanks to the Trustees who listened and learned through this process and voted to affirm faculty voice, shared governance, and academic freedom.
We have all learned through this process and I want us to learn from yesterday’s meeting as well. When any of us are leading meetings to which the public is party, let’s commit ourselves to outlining the logistics and the reasoning behind those logistics at the outset. Like many people have already commented, I believe such a process could have prevented some of the disturbing encounters between our students and campus police. If you are in a meeting with me and I neglect this important element, please remind me.
Finally, this episode has taken so much out of us at a moment when we very much need rejuvenation. Please know that I recognize how tired people are. For many colleagues of color, your pain has been particularly acute. You have been asked to speak, not about your brilliant scholarship, but about your deep pain on this campus. None of it has been easy and all of it was preventable. As this challenging chapter concludes, we can be certain that it is not the last such episode. We will be tested further. For that reason, we must intensify our work to make diversity and inclusion meaningful on this campus. We need all hands on deck to continue to change our culture, confront our history, and ensure Carolina can be a destination and a home for scholars, students and staff from every background, identity, and point-of-view.
Our collective voice won this day, and it will be needed for the days that will follow. For now, let’s get some rest and welcome our new colleague, Professor Nikole Hannah-Jones. Hark the Sound, indeed!
Mimi V. Chapman, MSW, PhD
Chair of the Faculty
Frank A. Daniels Distinguished Professor for Human Service Policy Information
Associate Dean for Doctoral Education
School of Social Work
This message was sent via email to the faculty this evening. View the email at this link.