Culture Wars/Current Controversies

A Culture of Free Speech Protects Everyone

By Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic

The journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones appears to be a victim of viewpoint discrimination. Academic freedom needs a vigorous defense—and not just at UNC.

Last week, the journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, who led The New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project, was named the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Faculty at its Hussman School of Journalism and Media recommended her for tenure too. But the university’s board of trustees didn’t approve the faculty recommendation. Instead, UNC appointed her to a five-year contract with the option of a tenure review.

That appointment may still strike many Americans as a great gig, even without the dream of lifetime job security. But many in academia and journalism see it as a politicized assault on academic autonomy and the First Amendment. Two years ago, Hannah-Jones’s project sought to reframe American history around the year when captured Africans were first brought to Virginia as slaves. “The 1619 Project ignited a continuing debate about the legacy of slavery, but has faced criticism from some historians over certain claims, and from conservatives who have labeled it ‘propaganda,’” The New York Times reported in its coverage of the UNC decision. “The Republican-controlled North Carolina Legislature appoints the university system’s Board of Governors, which has significant control over the university’s board of trustees.”


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