The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones has turned down a teaching job at the University of North Carolina after a long fight to be offered tenure.
Speaking on CBS This Morning, Hannah-Jones announced that she would instead take up the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at Howard University. Explaining her decision, Hannah-Jones said, “It was a very difficult decision, not a decision I wanted to make... Look what it took to get tenure. This was a position that, since the 1980s, came with tenure... Every other chair before me, who also happened to be white, received that position with tenure.”
A week ago, trustees at UNC-Chapel Hill finally approved tenure after weeks of controversy about why the school had tried to deny the “1619 Project” creator that status. However, she decided she no longer wanted the job, saying, “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 any more.”
One other surprise from Howard University’s announcement: National Book Award and fellow MacArthur “Genius” winner Ta-Nehisi Coates will also be joining the faculty with her as the Sterling Brown Chair in the university’s English department. Coates attended Howard for several years back in the ’90s but never completed his bachelor’s degree, something he plans to do now.
“That really is the community that made me,” the writer told The Washington Post. “I would not be who I am without the faculty at Howard.”
The school said their positions were made possible by $20 million donated by the MacArthur, Knight, and Ford foundations, and an anonymous donor.
“It is my pleasure to welcome to Howard two of today’s most respected and influential journalists,” said Howard President Wayne A.I. Frederick. “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. Not only must our newsrooms reflect the communities where they are reporting, but we need to infuse the profession with diverse talent. We are thrilled that Hannah-Jones and Coates will bring their insights and research to what is already a world-class, highly accomplished team of professors.”
In a statement posted on Medium, faculty members at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media said they weren’t “surprised” Hannah-Jones ultimately turned down a position at the school given the “humiliating, inappropriate, and unjust” treatment she received.
“We will be frank: It was racist,” the post reads. “Our school highly regards Ms. Hannah-Jones’ work, ability, and achievements. We regret that the top echelons of leadership at UNC-Chapel Hill failed to follow established processes, did not conduct themselves professionally and transparently, and created a crisis that shamed our institution, all because of Ms. Hannah-Jones’s honest accounting of America’s racial history.”
Howard has recently been in the headlines after Phylicia Rashad, the dean of Howard’s College of Fine Arts, gleefully tweeted in support of her former co-star Bill Cosby following his sudden release from prison last week. Facing calls to resign, Rashad walked back her first statement, which said “a miscarriage of justice is corrected." by tweeting that she “fully support[s] survivors of sexual assault coming forward.” In a statement, Howard said her first tweet “lacked sensitivity.”
Cosby joined the fray on July 4, writing in a statement, “Howard University you must support ones Freedom of Speech (Ms. Rashad), which is taught or suppose to be taught everyday at that renowned law school, which resides on your campus.”