‘1619 Project’ creator Nikole Hannah-Jones turns down tenure at UNC to join Howard University’s faculty with Ta-Nehisi Coates

Nikole Hannah-Jones
The New York Times magazine journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones speaks at the 137th Commencement of Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 16, 2021.

  • Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones said she is joining Howard University’s faculty.
  • Hannah-Jones turned down a tenured position at the University of North Carolina after the school initially withheld her offer.
  • She said she will also open Howard University’s Center for Journalism and Democracy.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

‘1619 Project’ creator and Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones has turned down a tenure offer at the University of North Carolina to join Howard University’s faculty alongside Ta-Nehisi Coates.

She made the announcement on “CBS This Morning,” and released a further statement calling out her alma mater, saying she would be taking a position at Howard as the inaugural Knight Chair in Race and Reporting as well as creating the school’s Center for Journalism and Democracy.

“I will be creating a new initiative aimed at training aspiring journalists to cover the crisis of our democracy and bolstering journalism programs at historically Black colleges and universities across the country,” she said.

A group of more than 30 members of the University of North Carolina’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media published a note on Medium admonishing the college’s administration for alienating Hannah-Jones and pushing her away from the tenure offer.

“We will be frank: It was racist,” the group wrote.

The faculty noted that Hannah-Jones would have been the journalism school’s second-ever tenured Black female professor and the “sole Black woman at the rank of full professor level in our school.”

In 2019, Hannah-Jones released the 1619 Project for the New York Times that explores the lasting effects of slavery in the US since the first ship of enslaved Africans touched down in colonial Virginia over 400 years ago. The project’s introductory essay won Hannah-Jones a Pulitzer Prize in 2020, though the project also led to critique from some historians and Republican politicians.

According to the Assembly, University of North Carolina donor and publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Walter Hussman Jr. wrote to the journalism school’s heads in December 2020 about his concerns with hiring Hannah-Jones.

“I worry about the controversy of tying the UNC journalism school to the 1619 project,” Hussman wrote in an email to university officials. “I find myself more in agreement with Pulitzer prize winning historians like James McPherson and Gordon Wood than I do Nikole Hannah-Jones.”

Hussman told NPR that he’s afraid that people are losing trust in media because of unobjective and partisan reporting, a notion that perplexed Hannah-Jones, showcasing the growing rift at the time between her and one of the University of North Carolina’s top donors.

“Most mainstream newspapers reflect power,” she said to NPR. “They don’t actually reflect the experiences of large segments of these populations, and that’s why many of these populations don’t trust them. So when I hear that, I think he’s speaking to a different audience.”

Award-winning author Ta-Nehisi Coates also announced he will be joining Howard University’s College of Arts and Sciences as a writer-in-residence and will hold the Sterling Brown Chair in the university’s English department.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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Publisher Walter Hussman lobbied UNC against hiring 1619 Project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones at the journalism school named for him: report

Nikole Hannah-Jones
The New York Times magazine journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones speaks at the 137th Commencement of Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 16, 2021.

  • Publisher Walter Hussman felt that hiring Hannah-Jones would tie UNC too closely with the 1619 Project.
  • Hussman said Hannah-Jones didn’t recognize the “efforts” of white Americans during the Civil Rights Movement.
  • Hannah-Jones is weighing legal action against the university after a tenure dispute.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Walter Hussman, the newspaper publisher whose name adorns the University of North Carolina’s journalism school, warned the university against hiring New York Times magazine journalist and 1619 Project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones, according to emails obtained by the digital magazine The Assembly.

Hussman, an alumnus whose $25 million donation to the school in 2019 led to his name being affixed to the institution, felt that Hannah-Jones didn’t give enough credit to white Americans who fought for civil rights and questioned whether her hiring would attract unwanted attention to the journalism school.

The 1619 Project, which was published by The New York Times Magazine in 2019, examines the legacy of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans throughout the nation’s history, drawing the ire of conservatives who have disputed its historical accuracy and are seeking to ban the project from schools across the country.

Hannah-Jones received the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for the project in 2020.

“I worry about the controversy of tying the UNC journalism school to the 1619 project,” Hussman wrote in a December email to Susan King, the dean of the journalism school. “I find myself more in agreement with Pulitzer prize winning historians like James McPherson and Gordon Wood than I do Nikole Hannah-Jones.”

He added: “These historians appear to me to be pushing to find the true historical facts. Based on her own words, many will conclude she is trying to push an agenda, and they will assume she is manipulating historical facts to support it. If asked about it, I will have to be honest in saying I agree with the historians.”

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Hussman, the publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, told The Assembly he wouldn’t discuss in detail his communication about Hannah-Jones as he is a working journalist, but he confirmed the content of the emails.

He has long described an adherence to journalistic “core values” that shape the mission of the publications that he owns. The hallmark values include objectivity, impartiality, integrity, and truth-seeking.

However, additional emails obtained by The Assembly displayed Hussman’s sharp opinions about Hannah-Jones’s work.

In a September email, Hussman rejected part of her opening essay, where she described the fight for civil rights after World War II, writing that Black Americans largely “fought back alone.”

“I think this claim denigrates the courageous efforts of many white Americans to address the sin of slavery and the racial injustices that resulted after the Civil War,” he reportedly wrote in the email.

Hussman then mentioned that Freedom Riders and many white Southern journalists stood alongside Black Americans during the turbulent civil rights battles of the 1960s.

“Long before Nikole Hannah-Jones won her Pulitzer Prize, courageous white southerners risking their lives standing up for the rights of blacks were winning Pulitzer prizes, too,” he wrote, per the emails obtained by The Assembly.

On Sunday, Hannah-Jones tweeted out the article published by The Assembly, calling it “great, if disappointing reporting,” while responding to one of the comments that Hussman reportedly made to UNC.

“Completely irrelevant to my credentials as a journalist, for the record, I’ve long credited Black and white race beat reporters with inspiring my own journalism,” she wrote. “This has been on the bio page of my web site for years.”

In April, Hannah-Jones was offered a position as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at UNC.

However, after Hannah-Jones went through an extensive tenure process with the backing of faculty and the tenure committee, her application hit a roadblock with the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees.

The board of trustees is tasked with reviewing and approving tenure applications, and it declined to move forward with authorizing tenure for Hannah-Jones, who earned a master’s degree in journalism and mass communications from the university, as first reported by NC Policy Watch earlier this month.

On Friday, Hannah-Jones said that she was considering legal action against UNC, expressing that she had “no desire to bring turmoil or a political firestorm to the university” but felt “obligated to fight back against a wave of anti-democratic suppression.”

“As a Black woman who has built a nearly two-decades long career in journalism, I believe Americans who research, study, and publish works that expose uncomfortable truths about the past and present manifestations of racism in our society should be able to follow these pursuits without risk to their civil and constitutional rights,” she said in a statement.

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1619 Project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones has tenure offer revoked by UNC: report

Nikole Hannah-Jones
The New York Times magazine journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones speaks at the 137th Commencement of Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 16, 2021.

  • The New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones had a tenure offer revoked at UNC-Chapel Hill, according to NC Policy Watch.
  • Hannah-Jones was set to teach at the school as a Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism.
  • She is the creator of the 1619 Project, which has drawn a wave of criticism from conservatives.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

According to NC Policy Watch, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reversed its plans to offer a tenured teaching position to Nikole Hannah-Jones, the New York Times Magazine journalist and creator of the 1619 Project.

Last month, the university offered Hannah-Jones a position as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism.

However, after Hannah-Jones went through an extensive tenure process with the backing of faculty and the tenure committee, her application hit a roadblock with the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees, according to NC Policy Watch.

The board of trustees is tasked with reviewing and approving tenure applications, and it declined to move forward with authorizing tenure for Hannah-Jones, who earned a master’s degree in journalism and mass communications from the university.

Instead, the school has altered its offer from a tenured position to a “fixed-term position,” which would afford her the chance to be considered for tenure after five years.

“It was a work-around,” a UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees member informed NC Policy Watch this week.

After the news broke of the university hiring Hannah-Jones last month, conservative critics, who have slammed the 1619 Project as “propaganda” in its examination of race and racism in the United States, blasted the move.

Susan King, the dean of the University of North Carolina Hussman School of Journalism and Media, told NC Policy Watch of her dismay with the board’s decision.

“It’s disappointing, it’s not what we wanted, and I am afraid it will have a chilling effect,” she said.

She added: “Investigative journalists always are involved in controversies. They dig deep, and they raise questions that demand answers. Part of what they do is raise uncomfortable questions for people, institutions and systems.”

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Following today’s news, over 20 faculty members of the journalism school have signed a public statement asking for the university to reconsider its decision.

“We call on the university’s leadership to reaffirm its commitment to the university, its faculty, and time-honored norms and procedures, and its endorsed values of diversity, equity, and inclusion,” the statement read. “The university must tenure Nikole Hannah-Jones as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism.”

Through the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigate Reporting, Hannah-Jones has sought to cultivate and retain reporters and editors of color in the field of investigative reporting, which has long had a dearth of minority journalists in its ranks in major American newsrooms.

She has garnered widespread recognition for the 1619 Project – published by The New York Times Magazine in 2019.

The project examines the legacy of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans throughout the nation’s history. It drew the ire of Republicans who have objected to the project’s historical context and have sought to ban the body of work from being taught in schools. The 1619 Project is also said to have inspired former President Donald Trump’s push for the 1776 commission, which was established to promote “patriotic education.”

In 2017, Hannah-Jones received the highly-coveted MacArthur Fellowship, and in 2020, she won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for the 1619 Project, among other awards.

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