Nikole Hannah-Jones and the affirmative action paradox
There are few better illustrations of the difference between the currently acceptable race narrative and actual reality than the Nikole Hannah-Jones tenure saga at the University of North Carolina (UNC). The media would have you believe that an award-winning journalist applied for a job she was easily qualified for, but after suffering extraordinary racist abuse, she instead accepted an alternative job at a historically black university.
In the summer of 2020, UNC began negotiating with Hannah-Jones about a Knight Professor position at the School of Journalism, and she received a formal letter of offer in February 2021. However, despite Hannah-Jones’ status as a Pulitzer Prize, Peabody Award Winner, and National Magazine Award Winner, that initial letter did not include a job offer.
Some initially suspected that this denial of tenure had something to do with NHJ policy. But more sinister rumors were in the works. Major events rocked the UNC campus, and more than 30 faculty members signed an official statement denouncing the denial of tenure as a “racist”. Finally, at the end of June, the administrators of the UNC did the right thing and approved his mandate by nine votes to four. However, offended by this apparent insult, NHJ announced a few months later that it does not accept UNC’s offer at all – instead, she decided to join the faculty at Howard University, an elite and almost all-black.
Much of this story is a complete fantasy. First, before the militant media got involved, NHJ was happy to sign the initial UNC offer – which was apparently a completely standard academic offer letter. He noted that his post would not be “inherently permanent”, but also that it would likely produce permanence “at the end of the contract”.
Even though the decision not to offer tenure at the hiring stage was specific to Hannah-Jones, it literally had nothing to do with racism. The controversy surrounding his hiring concerns his “award-winning” work. Dozens of serious media and academic media on the right and the left trashed the 1619 project that made the name Hannah-Jones. His claim that the US War of Independence was fought in large part to preserve slavery has been widely debunked. (I also harshly criticized 1619 on sharp and elsewhere.) Even the Project’s fact-checker wrote a item for Politics, criticizing Hannah-Jones for not listening to her factual advice.
It’s worth looking past the details of the Hannah-Jones saga. Almost no teaching contract involves a promise of immediate tenure, with the best and largest recruitments of professors generally being recruited on the tenure track. And while journalism schools can sometimes be an exception to this rule, hardly any tenure-track professor is hired without a doctorate or other terminal degree, and some scholarly publication history. NHJ’s highest degree is, according to what is publicly available, a master’s degree from UNC. Despite this, his draft contract was one of the best academic jobs I have ever seen: it would include a guaranteed salary of $ 180,000 per year, a “starter package” of $ 100,000 and nearly $ 10,000 in transfer funds.
If Hannah-Jones had accepted the post, she would immediately have become the highest-paid professor at UNC’s major journalism school, supplanting John Sweeney, “who has taught at the school since 1981 and earns $ 151,954”. In return for this amount, NHJ was to teach two classes per semester and “produce journalism projects on structural racism”. In fact, the full attention of the Knight Chair in Journalism was also changed to “racial and investigative journalism” to accommodate it.
Literally, there is no indication that Hannah-Jones’ race was a barrier to her proposed employment. On the contrary, diversity has been widely cited as a reason to bring it on board. The university that sought to employ him has a Diversity / Equity / Inclusion (DCI) office which employs dozens of people and has its own unique website. The deal she made after rejecting the UNC pitch wasn’t too bad either: Her new job at the nation’s top black college comes with a six-figure salary, with Ta-Nehisi Coates as a colleague, and is funded by nearly $ 20 million in donations.
In other words, the discussion in the mainstream media about Hannah-Jones’ tenure is an extraordinary reversal of reality. Unfortunately, this is not unique to her. A common theme in modern discourse is that “mediocre” white men are held to lower standards than, say, bisexual Hispanic women when it comes to college admissions or job hiring. business. There is in fact a recent bestseller on this “phenomenon” by Ijeoma Oluo, aptly titled Poor. Although there is more than a residual racial bias that tough for entry level jobs, there is no evidence to support this claim in the corporate world or academia. This is exactly the opposite of the truth. Affirmative action has long been legal, if not mandatory, under US law. Almost every Fortune 1000 company or reputable university employs an entire department of bureaucrats focused on diversifying their institutions.
The advantage given to certain groups by affirmative action is not a matter of speculation. Attorney Peter Arcidiacono, a lawyer for the suite of Asian-American majority plaintiffs in a recent lawsuit against Harvard University, pointed out that the chances of acceptance to Harvard for a student in the top decile of excellence academic are just over 10%. for an Asian candidate. On the other hand, this rate is a little less than 20% for a white child (and a little lower for a white man). If two applicants, an Asian and a black, have exactly the same qualifications, the Asian applicant has a 25 percent chance of being admitted, while the black applicant has a 95 percent chance.
These enormous benefits extend far beyond a single elite institution. Looking at the acceptance rates at all U.S. medical schools between 2013 and 2016, the center-right American Institute of Business found that a lower-than-average candidate’s chances of admission were six percent for an Asian American, eight percent for a Caucasian, 31 percent for a Hispanic or Latino, and 56 percent for a black candidate. Academics Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor pointed out that at all universities – undergraduate and graduate – the benefit of affirmative action for African American students can translate into hundreds of extra points in terms of test scores (out of a maximum 1,600 points).
Some may, in private, suspect that the reach of affirmative action extends beyond the classroom and boardroom to the rewards. Was project 1619 really the best factual journalistic commentary produced in 2019? I can’t be the only one asking this question, especially following embarrassing incidents like the National Association of Academics submit an official public letter from 21 experts to the Pulitzer Council, calling for the revocation of the 1619 project award.
One thing is certain: the dominant race discourse fails to recognize the prevalence of affirmative action in American society. In their book Offset, Sander and Taylor investigated whether black students thought a black teenager would be more or less likely to be admitted to a typical selective college than a white child with the same credentials. An astonishing 67 percent of black respondents said the black candidate would be less likely to be admitted – presumably because of racism – while only five percent said the white student would. And, right there, we have the “NHJ Paradox”. Because of the false messages, people who are empirically and measurably privileged (at least in academia) expect to be the victims of racist abuse.