by Jennifer Ruth
May 20, 2021
If you haven’t yet read Silke-Maria Weineck’s May 20 article in the Chronicle, “The Tenure Denial of Nikole Hannah-Jones is Craven and Dangerous,” please go do so. The University of Michigan professor of German and comparative literature minces no words, as her first two sentences make immediately clear:
The news that the University of North Carolina will not offer Nikole Hannah-Jones a tenured position after all surprised no one who knows today’s Republicans in general and governors and trustees within the UNC system in particular. As a group, they are craven and ignorant in equal measure, and their ears perk up whenever the dog whistle blows.
A tendency of academics—necessary and laudable under normal circumstances—is to strive to assume the good faith of our interlocutors. But Weineck recognizes that this habitus can put the university at a grave disadvantage in today’s political climate. When the Department of Education under Trump trolled Princeton by filing an investigation when its President spoke of systemic racism at the university, when Republicans fall in step behind the Big Lie that the election was rigged, and when the conservative talking point de jour is that people who care about racial and social justice are the “new racists,” sincere dialogue has been shut down in advance. Accordingly, Weineck doesn’t spend her time arguing that Hannah-Jones qualified for a tenured appointment. To anyone paying attention to the journalist’s work and her impact on American society over the last five years, that goes without saying. Weineck draws our attention rather to who refused to grant the tenure, despite the fact that they granted it to all of Hannah-Jones’ predecessors in the endowed position. Why, she asks, do the Board of Trustees get to overrule the considered and expert judgments of the faculty and the provost? Who are these people?