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Nikole Hannah-Jones Rejects UNC-Chapel Hill Tenure Offer


After widespread controversy, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah Jones announced that she has turned down the tenured faculty position offered by the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. Instead, she will become the inaugural Knight Chair for Race and Journalism at Howard University, one of the country’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) located in Washington, DC.

The Knight Chair in Journalism is a program honoring professionals in the industry who help bridge the gap between the classroom and the newsroom. It is available at 23 universities around the country and has endowed 26 chairs since its launch in 1990.

Hannah-Jones told CBS This Morning that her rejection of the offer was a “very difficult decision, not a decision I wanted to make.”

“To be denied it [tenure], 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 became a national scandal — it’s just not something that I want anymore,” she explained.

Controversy Over Hannah-Jones’ 1619 Project

Hannah-Jones was offered tenure after a 9-4 vote by the board of trustees to approve the motion. The board had initially offered her a fixed, five-year contract for their Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism. Previous recipients of the position were offered tenure, and the faculty board had recommended Hannah-Jones for tenure as well.

When the public heard of how she had only been offered a five-year contract initially, it triggered widespread protests for what many believed was political meddling and an affront to free speech. Hannah-Jones is best known as the author of the New York Times Magazine 1619 Project, a piece focusing on America’s history of slavery.

Moving the Ida B Wells Society Out of UNC-Chapel Hill?

Many have also speculated about the fate of the Ida B Wells society, a news trade organization dedicated to improving the retention and profile of reporters and editors of color in investigative reporting through workshops and training. 

While the society has been based at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Journalism since its launch in 2016, Michelle Duster, the great-granddaughter of Ida Wells, expressed reservations about whether the society is in the right location. 

Hannah-Jones confirmed to The Herald Sun that they do not intend to move it out of UNC-Chapel Hill “for now.” However, she said that it “would be difficult in the long-term” for the society to be at a school that “seems to be in opposition to the very reason that we exist.”

Walter Hussman Jr, after whom the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Journalism is named, is one of the largest donors of the school and a publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. According to AP News, he emailed university leaders regarding his concern about whether Hannah-Jones’ presence at the journalism school “would distract from its core values.”

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