Toll from Political Push at UNC Continues to MountHistorians in the News
tags: University of North Carolina, academic freedom
In an exclusive interview, a distinguished Lumbee historian explains her decision to leave UNC-Chapel Hill
When renowned historian Malinda Maynor Lowery heard acclaimed journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones couldn’t get a vote on tenure from the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees, she felt sad and angry. But she was no longer surprised.
A Lumbee tribal member and director of the school’s Center for the Study of the American South, Lowery said she had for years watched weak leadership and the politicization of the university harm the school’s reputation and demoralize its students and faculty of color.
By the time the school’s failure to grant tenure to Hannah-Jones was generating international headlines, Lowery had already made her decision. She was leaving UNC-Chapel Hill for Emory University in Atlanta.
“If someone is as accomplished as her and so deserving of tenure, especially compared to the comparative mediocrity of what’s gone before, and they won’t recognize that…I just had to weep,” Lowery said. “I actually cried over the depth of the injustice and the wound that our decision makers were aggravating with that decision.”
It wasn’t an easy decision, Lowery said. She has deep connections to North Carolina and to Chapel Hill, from which she earned her master’s and doctorate degrees. But like much of the faculty, she said, she has seen a glaring pattern in the school’s decision-making.
An illegal, backroom deal with the Sons of Confederate Veterans over the Silent Sam Confederate monument. The disastrous decision to bring students back to full capacity dorms in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic against the advice of the Orange County Health Department. Private communications with wealthy, conservative donors over the hiring of Hannah-Jones and the decision to avoid a vote on the tenure bestowed on her white predecessors.
The pattern in these actions: leadership that prized the political concerns of the conservative dominated UNC Board of Governors, political appointees of the North Carolina General Assembly’s GOP majority, above all else.
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