After Nikole Hannah-Jones was not initially given tenure when hired as the newest Knight Chair at UNC-Chapel Hill, after conservatives ignited a public battle over the merits of her work and revealed the opinions of the UNC Board of Trustees, and North Carolina politicians, and the namesake of UNC’s journalism school, after the only student on the UNC Board of Trustees petitioned for a meeting, after UNC Campus Police forcibly removed student protesters from the tenure vote instead of explaining the process that governs their own meetings, after the tenure appointment was approved 9-4, the acclaimed and award-winning journalist has turned down the position at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Instead, she will take her talents to Howard University as a founder of the new Center for Democracy and Journalism with award-winning author Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Hannah-Jones spoke with Gayle King on CBS This Morning about her decision.
“It is not my job to heal the University of North Carolina,” she told King. “That’s the job of the people in power who created this situation in the first place.”
#EXCLUSIVE: Award-winning journalist @nhannahjones joins us to discuss her decision to turn down a prestigious faculty position at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, following weeks of controversy. pic.twitter.com/jpKOo8hCIH
— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) July 6, 2021
Hannah-Jones had known for months that she would not receive tenure, despite her credentials and the support of the journalism school faculty. She also says neither the university’s chancellor, the provost, nor members of the Board of Trustees have reached out to her to explain why her tenure application wasn’t taken up in December or January.
Shortly after her interview with King, NC Policy Watch released an exclusive interview with the journalist.
“Once the news broke and I started to see the extent of the political interference, particularly the reporting on Walter Hussman, it became really clear to me that I just could not work at a school named after Walter Hussman,” Hannah-Jones told Policy Watch. “To be a person who has stood for what I stand for and have any integrity whatsoever, I just couldn’t see how I could do that.”
Hannah-Jones expanded on the sentiments of her interview in her own statement through her lawyers, and highlighted the demands that have been made by the UNC Black Student Movement and UNC Black Caucus.
“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,” Hannah-Jones wrote. “For too long, Black Americans have been taught that success is defined by gaining entry to and succeeding in historically white institutions. I have done that, and now I am honored and grateful to join the long legacy of Black Americans who have defined success by working to build up their own.”
Faculty within the journalism school already released a statement on her decision.
“Although our school and university espouse the ideals of transparency, equity, inclusivity, and fairness, the proclamation of such lofty goals without accompanying action toward dismantling systemic racism precludes substantive progress,” the statement reads. “North Carolina’s state motto is “To be rather than to seem.’ And yet, Ms. Hannah-Jones would have been only the second Black woman to earn tenure in the School of Journalism and Media, a 70-year-old institution. The first earned tenure a mere three years ago.”
The Knight Foundation has also issued a statement on her decision and the inaugural position at Howard University.
“At a time when digital, television, radio and newspaper newsrooms are scrambling to hire journalists who reflect the communities they cover, Howard is ideally positioned to train the next generation of Black journalists,” President Alberto Ibargüen said in a press release. “Our investment in Howard will not only endow an academic Knight chair but also boost journalism education at other Historically Black Colleges and Universities.”
Student Body President Lamar Richards, the member of the UNC Board of Trustees that petitioned for a meeting on Hannah-Jones’s tenure application in the first place, tweeted congratulations to the journalist.
“The fight was never for her to come to UNC, it was always bigger than that,” Richards wrote. “History will remember this as the beginning of a revolution.”
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