CNN columnist claims conservative power in academia helped keep 1619 Project founder off UNC faculty

A CNN columnist claimed Thursday that 1619 Project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones ultimately lost her offer for a prestigious tenured position at the University of North Carolina because of a preponderance of conservative power in U.S. academia.

Hannah-Jones had been offered a $180,000 salary to work as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism, according to a March offer letter.  

However, earlier this week, the offer was reportedly rescinded and she is instead under consideration for a fixed five-year contract as a professor of practice.

In a Thursday column, Nicole Hemmer, an associate research scholar with the Obama Presidency Oral History Project at Columbia University, claimed an undue might of the right-wing in American academia is the root of Hannah-Jones’ ouster.

Hannah-Jones 1619 Project claims America’s founding was in that year – when the first slaves arrived in what would become the United States – and that the nation is therefore rooted in racism and bigotry, rather than the individual liberty, self-governance, and religious freedom that belies its actual 1776 founding. 

Hemmer said that Hannah-Jones’ involvement with the New York Times’ 1619 Project was what “put her in the crosshairs of the conservative movement.”

In that regard, Hannah-Jones has been roundly condemned by many center-right and conservative voices and pundits, not the least of which is Donald Trump – who in September harshly criticized her project as an example of “the left [having] warped, distorted, and defiled the American story with deceptions, falsehoods, and lies.”

In her column, Hemmer claimed UNC’s board bowed to pressure from conservatives which she said belies how the right-wing “wield[s] power in higher education.”

“For as long as the right has been complaining about the pernicious influence of liberal professors, they have been seeking not only to pressure universities from the outside but to empower the repositories of conservative strength within institutions of higher learning,” she wrote, adding that conservatives like to “caricature” universities as liberal strongholds.

She pointed to the Red Scare, when Sen. Joseph McCarthy, R-Wis., took on an endeavor to root out figures he suspected of being Communists or sympathetic to the Soviet Union and said it led to a “purge [on] the professoriate.”

Hemmer went on to claim that colleges are “hardly free from conservative influence because the right has spent the last 70 years arguing that higher education is irredeemably liberal.”

“That means such influence often strikes at the very basis of those universities.”, including the cornerstone of intellectual production and higher education, academic freedom.


The CNN column came shortly after a Teen Vogue column similarly claimed American universities are collectively a “right-wing institution.” 

In that column, writer Asheesh Siddique spoke about the right wing’s “dominance of academia” and how conservative ideology is purportedly “destroying higher education.”

“The only way to save the American university is for students and professors to take back control of campuses,” Siddique, a history professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, wrote.

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