Documents Show UNC Conducted "Sweeping and Disturbing" Investigation of Faculty over Donor Agreement Leaks

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tags: University of North Carolina, academic freedom, Nikole Hannah-Jones

A UNC-Chapel Hill investigation of its own faculty was much wider and deeper than previously disclosed, according to new documents released under state open records law .

Documents released last week show the probe went beyond reading faculty members’ emails to searching backup systems on their computers. It may have included as many as 22 separate faculty members.

As Policy Watch reported last August, UNC-Chapel Hill launched an investigation into a leaked donor agreement that included examining faculty member emails without their knowledge and asking them to sit for questioning.

At issue: the agreement between the university and Walter Hussman, the wealthy Arkansas media magnate whose $25 million pledge to the university’s journalism school led to it being renamed for him.

Hussman was at the center of the controversy over a tenure vote in the university’s failed attempt to hire Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones. When it was revealed Hussman lobbied against Hannah-Jones’s hire behind the scenes and had confidential details of the hiring process students, faculty and alumni began asking larger questions about his relationship with the university.

The Hussman contract, which the university considers confidential, was published by the News & Observer on July 14. The university announced an investigation two days later, seeking to determine how the paper got the document.

The university argues any leaked donor agreement endangers the confidentiality of all such contracts, which could in turn have a chilling effect on donations.

By the time the university launched its investigation, the Hussman document had been shared widely, including on a faculty email listserv where dozens of faculty members could access and forward it.

As Policy Watch reported, the school asked to question two professors in the journalism school – Deb Aikat and Daniel Kreiss – as part of its investigation. Kreiss declined. As part of his questioning, Aikat learned the university had accessed his university emails without his knowledge.

Read entire article at North Carolina Policywatch