What Nikole Hannah-Jones Said About Declining UNC Journalism Position for Howard University

Nikole Hannah-Jones has announced that she will be declining a tenured position at UNC's journalism school that had become embroiled in controversy and that she will be taking a position at Howard University instead.

"I've decided to decline the offer of tenure. I will not be teaching on the faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill," Hannah-Jones told CBS News' Gayle King on Tuesday.

Instead, she said she will serve as the inaugural Knight Chair in Race and Reporting at Howard University, a historically Black college in Washington, D.C.

Her decision comes after trustees at UNC voted to approve tenure for the New York Times journalist last week, reversing the school's initial decision, which was met with immense backlash.

"I went through the official tenure process and my peers in academia said that I was deserving of tenure. These board members are political appointees who decided that I wasn't," she said.

Despite the tenure committee's recommendation to approve Hannah-Jones, the school's Board of Trustees declined her tenure, which is often offered with the position of chair, in May due to pressure from conservative groups who raised issues with the Times' 1619 Project, which Hannah-Jones led. The school offered her a fixed five-year contract instead.

The 1619 Project, which "aims to reframe the country's history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of the United States' national narrative," has sparked criticism among conservatives who claim it seeks to re-write American history in a negative light.

The work has also been widely praised. Hannah-Jones' project has become one of her most well-known pieces of work and won her the Pulitzer Prize for commentary. UNC staffers have also penned a letter supporting her work and alleged that she was denied tenure because of her race.

"It's pretty clear that my tenure was not taken up because of political opposition, because of discriminatory views against my viewpoints, and I believe my race and my gender," Hannah-Jones said Tuesday.

Nikole Hannah-Jones Tenure UNC Howard University
Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones will accept a tenured position at Howard University following the UNC controversy. She is pictured at the 137th Commencement at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia on May 16, 2021. Marcus Ingram/Getty

The decision to deny tenure sparked public outcry and weeks of protests, which the journalist said made UNC's last-minute reversal even more uninviting.

"To be denied it, and to only be granted tenure on the last possible day at the last possible moment after legal action, after weeks of protests, after it became a national scandal, it's just not something I wanted anymore," Hannah-Jones said.

She said she's given a lot of thought to the decision to accept tenure at Howard, especially given that she was the first person to be offered the position at UNC without tenure.

"I have been very very thoughtful about my decision to go to a historically black college," she said. "What I've decided is since the second grade when I started being bused into white schools, I spent my entire life proving that I belong in elite white spaces that were not built for black people."

"I just decided--you know I got a lot of clarity through what happened with the University of North Carolina--I decided I did not want to do that anymore," she added. "That black professionals should feel free--and actually perhaps an obligation--to go to our own institutions and bring our talents and resources to our own institutions and help bring them up as well."

Although Hannah-Jones will accept the position at a different school, she did express disappointment that things had not worked out at UNC, where she graduated with a master's degree in 2003.

"This is my alma mater. I love the university," she told King. "The university has given me a lot and I wanted to give back. 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. I didn't want to drag my university through the pages of newspapers because I was the first and only Black person in that position to be denied tenure."

She said in a statement that accepting the position at Howard is a way to fulfill a dream she has had to attend the college as an undergraduate student.

Howard has also announced that Ta-Nehisi Coates, who is known for his racial commentary, will be appointed as the Sterling Brown Chair in the English department and become a writer-in-residence in the university's College of Arts and Sciences.