Nikole Hannah-Jones will not join UNC-Chapel Hill faculty after tenure controversy

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Nikole Hannah-Jones will not be teaching at UNC-Chapel Hill this fall, she revealed on “CBS This Morning” on Tuesday in her first on-the-record interview since her tenure application blew up into a national story.

Hannah-Jones was to join the UNC-CH faculty as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism Hussman School of Journalism and Media. She was awarded tenure by UNC-CH trustees with a 9-4 vote last week after weeks of public pressure and criticism.

In the past, UNC’s Knight Chairs have been granted tenure, but trustees originally set aside her tenure application to explore “questions.” Hannah-Jones is a Black woman and Pulitzer Prize-winner who has researched and written extensively on the effects of racism in American society. She was the creator of The New York Times’ 1619 Project about the lasting impacts of slavery.

When trustees set aside her tenure application, the journalism school offered Hannah-Jones the Knight Chair appointment with a five-year, fixed-term contract as a professor at $180,000 per year, with the option of applying for tenure later. Hannah-Jones accepted the offer, saying she would teach at UNC and also keep her job at The New York Times.

Once it became public that Hannah-Jones had not been offered the same terms as previous Knight Chairs at UNC, she said through her attorneys that she would not accept the job without tenure and she might sue the university for discrimination. Her tenure case sparked protests and criticism by students, faculty and alumni who said Hannah-Jones’ treatment by UNC smacked of racism and a desire to restrict academic freedom, especially around discussions of race in America.

At a special meeting called to discuss the matter, trustees voted Wednesday to grant tenure to Hannah-Jones. After the vote, her supporters and future colleagues in the journalism school welcomed her through tweets and public statements, but Hannah-Jones herself remained noncommittal.

In a statement, she said, “Today’s outcome and the actions of the past month are about more than just me. This fight is about ensuring the journalistic and academic freedom of Black writers, researchers, teachers and students. We must ensure that our work is protected and able to proceed free from the risk of repercussions, and we are not there yet. These last weeks have been very challenging and difficult and I need to take some time to process all that has occurred and determine what is the best way forward.”

Gayle King interviewed Hannah-Jones on “CBS This Morning.”

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