Nikole Hannah-Jones, the racial bomb-thrower and author of the “1619 Project” series whose historical research was discredited by historians across the political spectrum, has been offered a professorship at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC), setting off a firestorm over whether it should come with tenure or not.
But the university’s willingness to give a prestigious professor chair to a racialist whose reputation is associated with serious inaccuracy is all the more remarkable considering the fact that UNC is still recovering from one of the most notorious academic fraud scandals in recent history, in which the African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department gave virtually illiterate students top grades and ran no-show classes.
In 2012, an audit found that between 2007 and 2009, at least 52 courses had professors who never or rarely showed up. The department also awarded grades for “independent studies” that did not involve any classes. Other times, grades assigned by actual classes were mysteriously changed by someone within the department later.
“Lax Departmental administrative oversight and practices” thwarted investigators from fully documenting the extent of the fraud, the report said. But Mary Willingham, an academic advisor who blew the whistle, said, “Some of these college students could read at a second or third grade level… Students were taking classes that really didn’t exist. They were called independent studies at that time and they just had to write a paper… There was no attendance.”
One student took a high-level 400-level AFAM course and received a B+, even though he later had to enroll in “English 100, Basic Writing.”
Another student’s college term paper on Rosa Parks, clocking in at one paragraph long, read in its entirety:
On the evening of December Rosa Parks decided that she was going to sit in the white people section on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama. During this time blacks had to give up there seats to whites when more whites got on the bus. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. Her and the bus driver began to talk and the conversation went like this. ‘Let me have those front seats’ said the driver. She didn’t get up and told the driver that she was tired of giving her seat to white people. ‘I’m going to have you arrested,’ said the driver. ‘You may do that,’ Rosa Parks responded. Two white policemen came in and Rosa Parks asked them ‘why do you all push us around?’ The police officer replied and said ‘I don’t know, but the law is the law and you’re under arrest.
The fraud, it turned out, went back decades.
Many, but not all, of the students taking the sham AFAM courses were student athletes.
The scandal was so devastating to UNC that in 2015, its accreditor put it on academic probation for “non-compliance with the principle of… academic integrity.”
Department chair Julius Nyang’oro was charged with felony fraud for allegedly accepting pay for a class he did not teach, but the charges were dropped. He resigned as chair.
“We are deeply disturbed by what we have learned in the course of our review. Our review has exposed numerous violations of professional trust,” the report said.
But it pledged to recover: “With new departmental leadership and support from the departmental faculty, buttressed by new policies, procedures, and active faculty governance, this department, we believe, will emerge stronger.”
The school issued “Our Commitment: Taking Action and Moving Forward Together: A guide to review, response and reform at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill” to overcome the serious mar on its reputation.
But just a few years later, the school’s faculty was pushing for the hiring of the disgraced journalist Hannah-Jones, and lashing out at the university’s board of governors, who pointed out that she had few academic qualifications.
The position is Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism within the school’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media.
The New York Times’ 1619 Project quickly came under scrutiny for historical inaccuracies, first from the World Socialist Web Site, and later from numerous prestigious scholars across the political spectrum.
A group of historians wrote to the Times that “the project asserts that the founders declared the colonies’ independence of Britain ‘in order to ensure slavery would continue.’ This is not true. If supportable, the allegation would be astounding — yet every statement offered by the project to validate it is false.”
A historian who worked as a fact-checker for the Times said she “vigorously disputed” the series’ central claim that “One critical reason that the colonists declared their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery,” but she was ignored.
The Times later issued a “clarification” partially dialing back the claim. Hannah-Jones also claimed that she had never said 1619, the date she says the first slaves arrived in America, was the “true founding” of the country, and the Times quietly removed language that claimed the project “aim[s] to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding.”
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