Nikole Hannah-Jones denies tenure offer at UNC, accepts role at Howard

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New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones announced Tuesday that she has rejected an offer of tenure from the University of North Carolina — after she was initially denied a position by the school over concerns about her involvement in the Times Magazine’s 1619 Project. 

Hannah-Jones, 45, will not be serving as the chair of UNC’s journalism department and has instead taken a similar position at Howard University — a historically black university in Washington, DC — where she will be the inaugural Knight chair in race and reporting at the school.

“I have decided that instead of fighting to prove I belong at an institution that until 1955 prohibited Black Americans from attending, I am instead going to work in the legacy of a university not built by the enslaved but for those who once were,” the award-winning journalist wrote in a lengthy statement about the decision. 

“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,” she continued in the seething statement.

“Nor can I work at an institution whose leadership permitted this conduct and has done nothing to disavow it.” 

The decision comes after months of controversy that started when the North Carolina school denied Hannah-Jones tenure after she was tapped to be the school’s Knight chair in race and investigative reporting — making her the first professor in the role to not have tenure. 

While Hannah-Jones said her tenure application was “overwhelmingly approved” by the school’s Promotion and Tenure Committee, and the journalism department, the board of trustees took issue with the journalist’s 1619 Project and she was offered a five-year contract instead. 

The project, an ongoing initiative at the New York Times Magazine, sought to reframe the role enslaved Americans had in the creation of the United States and the consequences the “peculiar institution” had on modern-day race relations.

Some historians have taken issue with the project and have raised doubts about its accuracy.  

Hannah-Jones said she never wanted the issue to become a national scandal and even though she was “humiliated” to be denied tenure, she accepted the five-year contract offer and vowed to keep quiet.

However, the story eventually leaked to local press and the school faced mounting backlash, including legal action from Hannah-Jones’ team, and it eventually offered her tenure at the end of June. 

“Many people, all with the best of intentions, have said that if I walk away from UNC, I will have let those who opposed me win. But I do not want to win someone else’s game,” Hannah-Jones wrote in the statement.

“It is not my job to heal this university, to force the reforms necessary to ensure the Board of Trustees reflects the actual population of the school and the state, or to ensure that the university leadership lives up to the promises it made to reckon with its legacy of racism and injustice.

“For too long, powerful people have expected the people they have mistreated and marginalized to sacrifice themselves to make things whole. The burden of working for racial justice is laid on the very people bearing the brunt of the injustice, and not the powerful people who maintain it. I say to you: I refuse.”

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