Nikole Hannah-Jones Accepts Role at Howard University after UNC-Chapel Hill Tenure Battle


Following an extended battle over tenure, an investigative journalist who won a Pulitzer Prize for her ground-breaking work on the bitter legacy of slavery in the United States announced Tuesday that she will not return to the University of North Carolina’s faculty and will instead accept a chaired professorship at Howard University.

The debate over whether Nikole Hannah-Jones should be given a lifetime professor appointment at North Carolina’s flagship public institution has sparked weeks of outrage both on and off the Chapel Hill campus. Several professors and alumni expressed dissatisfaction, and during protests, Black students and teachers questioned whether the school valued them.

Hannah-Jones said in a written statement, “These last few weeks have been very dark. To be treated so shabbily by my alma mater, by a university that has given me so much and which I only sought to give back to, has been deeply painful.”

On Tuesday, she said that her tenure application had been held due to conservative political meddling and concerns from a key journalism school contributor. She bemoaned the “political firestorm that has dogged me since The 1619 Project published,” which has been attacked by conservatives, including Donald Trump.

Instead, Hannah-Jones will be holding a position as Knight Chair of Race and Investigation Journalism at Howard, which also announced on Tuesday that it recruited award-winning journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates.

University officials have stated that Hannah Jones’ tenure request for UNC Journalism School had been filed last year to the school’s trustees, but it was stopped when a board member who vetted lifetime appoints voiced concerns about her non-academic history. Instead, a five-year contract was originally given. Then the trustee board eventually took up the proposal last week, despite rising pressure, and voted to offer its tenure.

“To be denied it (tenure) to only have that vote occur on the last possible day, at the last possible moment, after threat of legal action, after weeks of protest, after it became a national scandal, it’s just not something that I want anymore,” Hannah-Jones said on CBS This Morning.

Hannah-Jones and Coates’ Howard appointments have been funded by almost $20 million donations made to support Howards’ continuing education and investment in black journalists by the Knight Foundation, the John D., and the Catherine T MacArthur Foundation Ford Foundation, and by an anonymous donor.

“It is my pleasure to welcome to Howard two of today’s most respected and influential journalists,” Howard President Wayne A. I. Frederick said in a news release. “At such a critical time for race relations in our country, it is vital that we understand the role of journalism in steering our national conversation and social progress.”

Hannah-Jones, who earned a master’s degree from UNC, was named a Knight Chair in the journalism school in April. Even though her predecessors were guaranteed tenure when they were hired, it was later revealed that she had been given a contract position.

Hannah-Jones cited political interference and the influence of a powerful donor to the journalism school on Tuesday, a reference to Arkansas newspaper publisher Walter Hussman, who revealed that before the process was halted, he had emailed university leaders challenging her work as “highly contentious and highly controversial.”

“I cannot imagine working at and advancing a school named for a man who lobbied against me, who used his wealth to influence the hires and ideology of the journalism school, who ignored my 20 years of journalism experience, all of my credentials, all of my work because he believed that a project that centered Black Americans equaled the denigration of white Americans,” Hannah-Jones said in her statement. “Nor can I work at an institution whose leadership permitted this conduct and has done nothing to disavow it.”