Five days after the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees granted tenure to journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, the Pulitzer Prize and MacArthur grant winner said no thanks to her graduate school alma mater.
Hannah-Jones is declining a position at the university’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media following a tenure controversy that escalated into a national debate. On July 1, UNC’s trustees voted 9-4 to grant Hannah-Jones tenure after it was not initially part of her five-year contract with the school.
The celebrated journalist will instead join Howard University as a Knight Chair in Race and Journalism, a position which comes with tenure, the famous HBCU said in a statement.
Hannah-Jones announced the move during an interview Tuesday morning with Gayle King on “CBS This Morning.” The response from UNC’s journalism school was a mix of support and disappointment.
JUST IN: Award-winning journalist @nhannahjones reveals on @CBSThisMorning she has declined the University of North Carolina's offer for tenure and will be the inaugural Knight Chair in Race and Reporting at @HowardU. pic.twitter.com/w9j0gVe0cd
— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) July 6, 2021
On Twitter, Hannah-Jones said she would continue working to improve UNC’s treatment of Black faculty and students and that she would always be a Tar Heel.
— Ida Bae Wells (@nhannahjones) July 6, 2021
According to reporting in the News & Observer, all previous Knight Chair appointments at UNC included tenure; Hannah-Jones’ contract was the first without it.
In a statement signed by 39 Hussman faculty members, UNC journalism professors called the university’s handling of the Hannah-Jones’ situation “humiliating, inappropriate and unjust.” They also called it racist.
— UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media (@UNCHussman) July 6, 2021
UNC’s Black Caucus tweeted support for Hannah-Jones and called on the university to do more work to support Black faculty members and students.
“The Carolina Black Caucus fully supports the decision of Nikole Hannah-Jones not to bring her time and talents to UNC-Chapel Hill...we completely understand the choice not to come to work at an institution that willfully disrespects you at every turn.” pic.twitter.com/hr14FeBBhn
— UNC Black Caucus (@UNCBlackCaucus) July 6, 2021
UNC journalism professor Shannon McGregor apologized to Hannah-Jones on behalf of the school and vowed that faculty members would continue to push for equity.
We offer @nhannahjones our profound apology for all she endured. It will not be in vain. We are reestablishing our autonomy, clarifying our values & will demonstrate a model of faculty governance guided by diversity, equity, inclusion & belonging. https://t.co/5alMHv39Lg
— Shannon McGregor, PhD (@shannimcg) July 6, 2021
UNC Student Body President Lamar Richards congratulated Hannah-Jones and said activists at the school were fighting for more than tenure.
The fight was never for her to come to UNC, it was always bigger than that. History will remember this as the beginning of a revolution. Congratulations, @nhannahjones ️
— Lamar Richards (@lamarrichards_) July 6, 2021
Joe Killian, a journalist for NC Policy Watch released a Tweet thread comparing interviews with Hannah-Jones and Walter Hussman, an Arkansas publisher and namesake donor of UNC’s journalism school.
Meeting with #NikoleHannahJones for an interview this week made me reflect on my June interview with Walter Hussman, the conservative Arkansas media magnate and #UNC megadonor who lobbied against hiring her.
It's worth talking a bit about these two people and interviews.
— JoekillianPW (@JoekillianPW) July 6, 2021
Joining Hannah-Jones at Howard is Ta-Nehisi Coates, also a MacArthur fellow and celebrated journalist. Nicole Tinson founded the HBCU job network HBCU 20X20 and praised the move as a win for HBCUs.
Nikole Hannah-Jones is a BOSS!!
They played in her face and after the pressure to offer her tenureship, she declined and accepted an offer at an HBCU!
Great lesson on knowing your worth, walking away when things don’t honor you and getting the last word!
— Nicole Tinson (@Nikki_T) July 6, 2021
The conclusion of the tenure controversy at UNC led other prominent Black journalists to respond to Hannah-Jones decision.
So many lessons from my friend @nhannahjones, this morning.
Go where you are embraced, celebrated, valued and supported.
Go where you don’t have to fight for people to see your brilliance.
And, avoid spaces if they barely tolerate you, even if they’re familiar and beloved.
— Yamiche Alcindor (@Yamiche) July 6, 2021