Creator of the 1619 Project and journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones recently announced she would not be accepting a position at her alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After weeks of her employment and tenure status being national news, Hannah-Jones spoke to Gayle King on “CBS This Morning,” stating, “I’ve decided to decline the offer of tenure. I will not be teaching on the faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.” The UNC alum went on to say she would be taking a similar position at Howard University as the inaugural Knight Chair in Race and Reporting.
JUST IN: Award-winning journalist @nhannahjones reveals on @CBSThisMorning she has declined the University of North Carolina's offer for tenure and will be the inaugural Knight Chair in Race and Reporting at @HowardU. pic.twitter.com/w9j0gVe0cd
— CBS Mornings (@CBSMornings) July 6, 2021
In 2020 Hannah-Jones was picked to join the UNC faculty as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism. She was not immediately offered tenure but rather a five-year contract with the journalism school. Hannah-Jones initially accepted the position before learning she was the first black person and the first person not to receive tenure in the position. She reversed her acceptance of the role and stated, “it’s pretty clear that my tenure was not taken up because of political opposition, because of discriminatory views against my viewpoints, and I believe my race and my gender.” She is reportedly represented by three legal organizations, including the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and has considered legal action against UNC. She claims she was not offered the same tenure as previous faculty members in the same position. She also cited “anti-democratic suppression” by the university board of trustees as a reason for legal action.
Hannah-Jones was initially denied tenure amid backlash to her flagship work, the 1619 Project. The Pulitzer Prize-winning work has been criticized by historians for inaccuracies and praised by supporters as an accurate and complete take on American history. After weeks of delay and multiple national news headlines, the UNC board of trustees voted 9-4 to approve Hannah-Jones’ tenure only to have her reject the offer and claim “it’s just not something I want anymore.”
The UNC Hussman School of Journalism faculty posted a statement to Medium, bluntly titled “Racism and Reactionary Politics Kept Nikole Hannah-Jones from Joining UNC.” They say the treatment of Ms. Hannah-Jones by her alma mater was “humiliating, inappropriate and unjust.” They go on to declare they will “demonstrate a model of faculty governance guided by diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.” 32 faculty members signed the statement.
Supporters and critics of Hannah-Jones have both slammed the university for its handling of the situation. Supporters say the early denial of tenure was undoubtedly racist. In contrast, critics say the university has embarrassed itself and damaged its reputation and legacy by offering the controversial journalist tenure only to be rejected.