Nikole Hannah-Jones joins Howard University after rejecting UNC role

• Founder of 1619 Project was initially denied tenure at UNC

• ‘It’s not my job to heal the University of North Carolina’

The journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones said on Tuesday she will join Howard University, a prominent historically black college in Washington, as its Knight chair in race and journalism, turning down a similar position at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill even though it reversed a controversial decision to deny her tenure.

Howard has also appointed the award-winning writer Ta-Nehisi Coates as writer-in-residence.

Hannah-Jones is a journalist for the New York Times best known for creating the Pulitzer-winning 1619 Project, which focuses on the place of slavery in American history.

She has been at the center of a tense fight in academia since the UNC board of trustees denied her tenure, despite her having the support of faculty and students.

Hannah-Jones was offered a five-year contract at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media that did not initially include tenure.

In her first interview about the controversy, Hannah-Jones told CBS on Tuesday every Knight chair before her at UNC “received that position with tenure”.

“This is my alma mater,” she said of UNC. “I love the university … it was embarrassing to be the first person to be denied tenure. It was embarrassing, and I didn’t want this to become a public scandal.”

Hannah-Jones added: “It’s pretty clear that my tenure was not taken up because of political opposition, because of discriminatory views against my viewpoint and, I believe, [because of] my race and my gender.”

Conservatives have targeted the 1619 Project, a series of essays on the legacy of institutional racism in the United States, as a symbol of critical race theory, an academic discipline targeted by the US right, and of discussion of systemic racism in schools.

In April, UNC announced that Hannah-Jones had been appointed as Knight chair. The next month, the local news outlet NC Policy Watch revealed that she had been denied tenure.

“It’s disappointing, it’s not what we wanted and I am afraid it will have a chilling effect,” Susan King, dean of the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at UNC, said then.

A wave of outrage followed, from journalists, academics and students. In May, peaceful protesters gathered at a trustees meeting, singing We Shall Overcome. At the end of June, the board voted 9-4 to give Hannah-Jones tenure.

“We welcome Nikole Hannah-Jones back to campus,” UNC’s board vice-chair, Gene Davis, said. “Our university is not a place to cancel people. Our university is better than that. Our nation is better than that.”

But Hannah-Jones told CBS no senior UNC figure had spoken to her about why she was not offered tenure immediately.

She also referred to political interference from a “powerful donor” who did not like her work as a force behind the university’s original decision – a reference to reports that Walter Hussman Jr, for whom the journalism school is named, lobbied against her appointment.

“After weeks of protests after it became a national scandal, it’s not something that I want any more,” Hannah-Jones said, explaining her decision to join Howard instead.

“This is not my fight. I fought the battle that I wanted to fight, which is I deserve to be treated equally and have a vote on my tenure. I won that battle, but it’s not my job to heal the University of North Carolina.”


Lauren Aratani

The GuardianTramp

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