Nikole Hannah-Jones turns down UNC tenure to teach at Howard instead

"It’s not my job to heal the University of North Carolina," Hannah-Jones told CBS's Gayle King of her alma mater.

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Acclaimed journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones has rejected the hard-fought tenure offer wrung from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to join the esteemed faculty at Howard University. 

The Pulitzer Prize-winning helmer of The New York Times Magazine‘s The 1619 Project will be joined at the Washington, D.C. HBCU by journalist-author Ta-Nehisi Coates. 

Nikole Hannah-Jones is rejecting UNC’s offer of a tenured position and will instead be the inaugural Knight Chair in Race and Journalism at Howard University. (Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images for Tribeca Festival)

Her announcement came in an interview early Tuesday with CBS This Morning

“The vote was nine to four offering you the tenure,” Gayle King noted. “What have you decided?”

“I’ve decided to decline the offer,” Hannah-Jones replied. “I will not be teaching on the faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It was a very difficult decision to make. And instead, I’m going to be the inaugural Knight Chair in Race and Journalism at Howard University.”

King responded, “There are so many things to unpack there.” She recounted the vote then said, “There are some people who would say you said you wouldn’t take the job without them offering you the tenure. They offered tenure, and you still said no.” 

“Well,” Hannah-Jones replied, “because look what it took to get tenure.” 

“This was a position that since the 1980s came with tenure,” she added. “The Knight chairs are designed for professional journalists who have been working in the field to come into academia, and every other chair before me, who also happened to be white, received that position with tenure.” 

“No one had ever been denied tenure before?” King asked. 

“Exactly,” contended Hannah-Jones. “And I went through the tenure process, and I received unanimous approval of the faculty to be granted tenure. And so to be denied it, and to have that vote happen on the last possible day, at the last possible moment, after the threat of legal action, after protests, after it became a national scandal — it’s just not something that I want anymore.” 

Hannah-Jones, 45, will instead become a tenured member of Howard’s school of communications and will also found the Center for Journalism and Democracy at the legendary Black college, where students will train in investigative journalism. 

“It’s not my job to heal the University of North Carolina,” she told King of her alma mater, where officials’ actions in denying Hannah-Jones tenure reportedly left the campus reeling. “That’s a job of the people in power who created this situation in the first place.”

“We are at a critical juncture in our democracy, and yet our press does not reflect the nation it serves and too often struggles to grasp the danger for our country as we see growing attacks on free speech and the fundamental right to vote,” Hannah-Jones said in a statement Tuesday. 

“In the storied tradition of the Black press,” she continued, “the Center for Journalism and Democracy will help produce journalists capable of accurately and urgently covering the challenges of our democracy with a clarity, skepticism, rigor and historical dexterity that is too often missing from today’s journalism.”

Coates, 45, will join the Howard faculty at its College of Arts and Sciences as a writer-in-residence and teach a creative writing class next year. 

“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,” Howard President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick said in a statement. “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 they will bring their insights and research to what is already a world-class, highly accomplished team of professors.”

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