Nikole Hannah-Jones Heads to Howard University after Tenure Controversy

The controversy set off a firestorm of protests from students and faculty at UNC. Last week Chapel Hill Trustees voted 9 to 4 to grant Hannah-Jones tenure. They initially declined to reconsider her application. During an interview on CBS This morning, Nikole Hannah-Jones announced she had rejected UNC’s offer and would instead join Howard University as the Knight Chair in Race and journalism with tenure. She joins fellow journalist and author Ta-Nehisi Coates, a Howard alum, to the university faculty.

During her interview on CBS, Nikole Hannah-Jones said after the controversy surrounding her tenure; she did not want the job anymore. Calling it “embarrassing,” she said, “Look what it took to get tenure…And so to be denied it, and to only have that vote occur on the last possible day, at the last possible moment, after the threat of legal action, after weeks of protest, after it became a national scandal – it’s just not something that I want anymore,”.

Conservative media mogul, Walter Hussman, met Hannah-Jones’ appointment to the UNC staff with opposition. The journalism school at UNC is named after the mogul, one of the university’s largest donors. He objected to her appointment and was critical of the 1619 project. In a December email to UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, Hussman said, “I worry about the controversy of tying the UNC journalism school to the 1619 project,” I find myself more in agreement with Pulitzer prize-winning historians like James McPherson and Gordon Wood than I do Nikole Hannah-Jones.”

In a statement published, Nikole Hannah-Jones further explained her decision saying,

“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. Nor can I work at an institution whose leadership permitted this conduct and has done nothing to disavow it. How could I believe I’d be able to exert academic freedom with the school’s largest donor so willing to disparage me publicly and attempt to pull the strings behind the scenes? Why would I want to teach at a university whose top leadership chose to remain silent, to refuse transparency, to fail to publicly advocate that I be treated like every other Knight Chair before me? Or for a university overseen by a board that would so callously put politics over what is best for the university that we all love? These times demand courage, and those who have held the most power in this situation have exhibited the least of it.”

When asked why she chose Howard University over other job offers, she said I’ve spent my entire life proving that I belong in elite white spaces that were not built for Black people,” she told CBS. “I decided I didn’t want to do that anymore. That Black professionals should feel free, and actually perhaps an obligation, to go to our own institutions and bring our talents and resources to our own institutions and help to build them up as well.”

The UNC Hussman School of Journalism faculty issued a statement online expressing their disappointment, saying, “The appalling treatment of one of our nation’s most-decorated journalists by her own alma mater was humiliating, inappropriate, and unjust. We will be frank. It was racist.”

Nikole Hannah-Jones says she is excited to join Howard University and is looking forward to helping to help shape a new generation of journalists.

Danielle Sanders is a journalist and writer living in Chicago. Find her on social media @DanieSanders20.

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