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Education

UNC Chapel Hill Journalism School Dean Announces She Is Stepping Down

The dean of the school of journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who led the effort to bring award-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones to her faculty in the face of resistance from the school's trustees, announced Tuesday she is stepping down.

In a statement issued to faculty at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, Susan King said a search will begin this week and she will remain as dean until a successor is named. King, who in her statement mentioned she did not plan to stay as dean beyond a decade, also said she will take a leave before returning to the school as a tenured faculty member.

“Media – journalism, public relations and advertising – are in a state of great change. It is not the same world or business even as it was in 2012 when I arrived,” King said in her statement. “I believe after 10 years a new dean will bring fresh eyes, additional perspective and new energy to our school.”

The statement made no specific reference to the conflict that accompanied her efforts to bring Hannah-Jones to the journalism school faculty, but she noted the events of the last year. After a tumultuous debate over whether to offer Hannah-Jones tenure, she ultimately decided to join the faculty at Howard University.

“Our school culture kept us focused on engaging our students in the big and important issues of the day, our commitment to diversity in terms of thought, race, gender, identity, philosophy and other differences was deepened, and our belief that communication and free expression are at the heart of a multi-cultural democracy has been tested and is stronger,” King said.

Hannah-Jones did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon.

“Susan brought the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting from Harvard University to UNC-Chapel Hill in 2019, elevating its work to increase and retain reporters and editors of color so that newsrooms are representative of the communities they serve,” said UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz in a statement which also made no reference to Hannah-Jones.

With the support of King, UNC announced in April that Hannah-Jones, who won the Pulitzer Prize for her work on The 1619 Project for The New York Times Magazine, would be joining the faculty in July. However, the trustee who leads the subcommittee that considers tenure applications chose in January to postpone the review of Hannah-Jones’ submission, Richard Stevens, the chairman of the board of trustees for the Chapel Hill campus, said in May. It was never brought before the full board for approval, and instead the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist accepted a five-year appointment to the faculty of the journalism school.

A torrent of criticism came over the following weeks. The trustees returned to the issue in June and voted to accept Hannah-Jones' tenure application. However, she announced July 6 she would not join the faculty at UNC after the extended tenure fight and would instead accept a chaired professorship at Howard University, a historically Black school in Washington, D.C.

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