Summary: Today’s rampant political polarization has led to alarming interference in academic affairs and threatens the foundations of teaching and scholarship, especially in areas of civics and American history. Most recently, the University of North Carolina Board of Trustees has apparently balked at the faculty’s recommendation that Nikole Hannah-Jones be appointed with tenure to the Knight chair in race and investigative journalism. She will instead hold the chair for a five-year term.
It seems that political considerations drove the board to take the extraordinary step of intervening in the university’s hiring decision – which would be a clear threat to academic freedom. There are, no doubt, reasons to object to awarding a tenured position to Hannah-Jones. Her work on “The 1619 Project” is controversial. So is her choice to sometimes dismiss and demean her critics instead of engaging with their arguments on the merits.
But political intervention in matters of faculty hiring will do lasting damage to higher education in North Carolina — and will embolden boards across the country similarly to interfere with academic operations of the universities that they oversee.
Whittington is a professor of politics at Princeton University and chairman of the Academic Freedom Alliance; Wilentz is a professor of history at Princeton