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Nikole Hannah-Jones declines UNC's tenure offer for position at Howard University

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill trustees did not initially offer the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist tenure after backlash from conservatives who condemned her hiring.
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Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones has turned down a tenure offer from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and will instead accept a faculty position at Howard University, the historically Black institution in Washington, D.C.

She made the announcement Tuesday in an interview on "CBS This Morning," telling host Gayle King that she "decided to decline the offer of tenure" from UNC, her alma mater.

"It was a difficult decision, not a decision I wanted to make," Hannah-Jones said. "Instead, I'm going to be the inaugural Knight Chair in Race and Journalism at Howard University."

She will join acclaimed writer Ta-Nehisi Coates as a faculty member at the university, the school announced. Coates will be a faculty member at the flagship College of Arts and Sciences, and Hannah-Jones will be a tenured faculty member of the Cathy Hughes School of Communications.

She will also be the founder of the Center for Journalism and Democracy, which will help train and equip aspiring journalists with "investigative skills and historical and analytical expertise needed to cover the crisis our democracy is facing,” the school said.

The announcement came weeks after UNC trustees initially denied tenure in Hannah-Jones' appointment as a professor at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media when conservatives condemned her hiring. Instead, the university offered her a five-year fixed term with eligibility for tenure review at the end.

The decision, which was widely criticized, sparked protests at the state's flagship university. Hannah-Jones' legal team said she would not join the faculty “without the protection and security of tenure."

University trustees last Wednesday voted 9-4 to approve tenure for Hannah-Jones, a renowned journalist and winner of a MacArthur Fellowship, known as a "genius grant."

She explained Tuesday why she decided to reject UNC's offer.

"Every other chair before me, who also happened to be white, received that position with 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 protests, after it became a national scandal — it's just not something that I want anymore."

She also said she could not work at a journalism school named for Walter Hussman Jr., a newspaper publisher whom she described as "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."

In a statement on Tuesday, Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick said he was honored to have Hannah-Jones and Coates, "two of today's most respected and influential journalists," join the university's faculty.

“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," Frederick said. "Not only must our newsrooms reflect the communities where they are reporting, but we need to infuse the profession with diverse talent."

Coates, a Howard alumnus and a 2015 MacArthur winner, said there was "no higher personal honor" than his faculty appointment at his alma mater. He is best known as the writer of the 2014 article, "The Case for Reparations," in The Atlantic and the author of the bestselling book "Between the World and Me," which was a letter to his son about growing up as a Black man in the U.S.

Hannah-Jones won the Pulitzer last year for her work on The New York Times Magazine's 1619 Project, which examines the consequences of slavery in the United States. That project has been assailed by some conservative critics, and she has faced staunch criticism since its release in 2019.

The 1619 Project is named after the year in which a ship carrying 20 to 30 enslaved Africans arrived in the then-British colony of Virginia. It holds that America was truly founded in 1619, when the first enslaved people were brought to the Colonies, not in 1776.