Nikole Hannah-Jones is getting the last laugh.
After months of contentious back and forth, the journalist and Pulitzer prize winner behind the 1619 Project rejected a tenure offer from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and will, instead, join the faculty of Howard University as the inaugural Knight Chair in Race and Reporting at the Cathy Hughes School of Communications.
Her decision comes after the UNC board of trustees voted 9-4 in Hannah-Jones’s favor after initially declining to offer her tenure in the first place.
“This was a position that, since the 1980s, came with tenure,” Hannah-Jones said in an interview with CBS’s Gayle King Tuesday. “The Knight Chairs are designed for professional journalists who have been working in the field to come work in academia, and every other chair before me—who also happened to be white—received that position with tenure.”
In April, UNC hired Hannah-Jones as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, but the university’s decision to withhold tenure became a national story. The ordeal intensified when it became known that newspaper publisher Walter Hussman Jr, a major donor for whom the school is named after, allegedly voiced concerns over Hannah-Jones’s employment and accused her of lacking objectivity. Given that Hannah-Jones’s work has made her public enemy number one in the eyes of the right as critical race theory frenzy reaches a fever pitch, it was the perfect storm of bullshit, and it’s made UNC look foolish.
“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 I want anymore,” Hannah-Jones said.
Hannah-Jones will be in good company: Author and former Atlantic contributor Ta-Nehisi Coates will also be joining the Howard faculty. The Howard alumnus will act as the Sterling Brown Chair in the Department of English at the university’s College of Arts and Sciences.
These buzzy new hires were reportedly possible thanks to a $20 million donation courtesy of the Knight Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and an anonymous donor. Whether this is thanks to backdoor donor recruiting or simply fortuitous timing, I’m left wondering where the hell that money was when I was a student at Howard.
But one thing is certain: the news certainly clears up the stink after the mess the historically Black university found itself in last week. When Bill Cosby’s prison sentence was vacated on June 30, Phylicia Rashad, his former Cosby Show co-star and newly appointed dean of Howard University’s College of Fine Arts tweeted, “FINALLY!!!! A terrible wrong is being righted- a miscarriage of justice is corrected!” The tweet has since been deleted, but not before Howard University was bombarded with calls to remove her from her new role. Rashad apologized while the university insisted they will always prioritize survivors of sexual assault.
Meanwhile, UNC is busy doing damage control of its own. In a joint statement, UNC Hussman faculty said the treatment of Hannah-Jones by the university was racist.
While disappointed, we are not surprised. We support Ms. Hannah-Jones’s choice. The appalling treatment of one of our nation’s most-decorated journalists by her own alma mater was humiliating, inappropriate, and unjust.
We will be frank: It was racist.
Our school highly regards Ms. Hannah-Jones’s 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. It is understandable why Ms. Hannah-Jones would take her brilliance elsewhere.
What celebrated Black journalist will UNC put through the ringer next?