Nikole Hannah-Jones, the Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times journalist who spearheaded the paper’s “1619 Project,” said on Tuesday that she would not accept a tenure offer from the University of North Carolina, after the school initially refused to offer her a tenure-track position. Hannah-Jones will instead join Howard University as the Knight Chair in race and journalism. She will also found a new center for journalism and democracy. (Howard also announced that Ta-Nahisi Coates will be joining its faculty.)
In April, UNC offered Hannah-Jones a five-year teaching position at the university’s Hussman School of Journalism. Yet the board of trustees did not offer her tenure, as it had with previous such appointees. Conservative board members, including the school’s namesake, Walter Hussman, were critical of Hannah-Jones’s stewardship of the “1619 Project,” which attempted to reframe America’s founding through the lens of slavery and white supremacy. The decision sparked widespread backlash, including from journalists and UNC faculty, and Hannah-Jones threatened to file a discrimination lawsuit.
In a closed-door vote on June 20 — during which protests among students erupted — the board voted 9-4 to grant Hannah-Jones tenure after all. But, as Hannah-Jones made clear on Tuesday, it was too late to retain her.
Hannah-Jones told CBS News’ Gayle King that declining UNC’s offer was a “very difficult decision,” and “not one I wanted to make,” but that the difficulty of obtaining job security there had soured her on the position. “I received unanimous approval of the faculty to be granted tenure,” she said. “And so to be denied it, and 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 become a national scandal, it’s just not something that I want anymore.”
In an extensive statement explaining her position, Hannah-Jones said, “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.”
In a statement, faculty members of the Hussman School said, “We support Ms. Hannah-Jones’s choice. 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.”