UNC chancellor ‘disappointed’ Nikole Hannah-Jones won’t be joining university’s faculty

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN/CBS) — After award-winning investigative journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones declined a tenure offer from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the university’s chancellor says he’s “disappointed” she won’t be joining the faculty.

Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz released a statement Tuesday, just hours after Hannah-Jones appeared on CBS This Morning where she released details of her choice to decline the offer and join faculty at Howard University.

“I am disappointed that Nikole Hannah-Jones will not be joining our campus community as a member of our faculty. In my conversations with Nikole, I have told her I appreciated her passion for Carolina and her desire to teach on our campus. While I regret she won’t be coming to Chapel Hill, the students, faculty and staff of Howard University will benefit from her knowledge and expertise. We wish her the best,” Guskiewicz said.

Hannah-Jones was scheduled to teach two courses at UNC this fall. She told “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King she will instead be taking a position as the inaugural Knight Chair in Race and Reporting at Howard University.

“I’ve decided to decline the offer of tenure. I will not be teaching on the faculty of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. It was a very difficult decision. Not a decision I wanted to make,” Hannah-Jones told “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King.

She helped secure $15 million dollars in funding for the program which according to an eight-page statement released by Hannah Jones, will focus on training aspiring journalists at Howard to report and cover challenges in democracy “with a clarity, skepticism, rigor and historical dexterity that is too often missing from today’s journalism.”

Guskiewicz went on to say that “we cannot be the leading global public research university without a commitment to building our community together. We must support and value every member of our community, and particularly our Black students, faculty and staff who, by sharing their experiences, have helped us understand their anger and frustration with this process and their experiences on our campus. I remain committed to recruiting and retaining the world-class faculty that our students deserve at Carolina.”

UNC announced in April that it would offer Hannah-Jones a position as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism in July with a five-year contract. She was the first Black person to hold the prestigious faculty position and the only person to be appointed without tenure.

“This was a position that since the 1980’s came with tenure. The Knight Chairs are designed for professional journalists who when 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… I went through the tenure process and I received the unanimous approval of the faculty to be granted tenure,” Hannah-Jones said. “To be denied it and 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 that I want anymore.”

There were earlier opportunities for the UNC Board of Trustees to vote on whether to give Hannah-Jones tenure before last week and Hannah-Jones says she never got a full explanation as to why her application was not taken up earlier.

“To this day, neither the chancellor or the provost or anyone on the board of trustees has ever told me why my tenure was not taken up in November, why it was not taken up in January and even the public statements about needing more information about my credentials, they voted without ever asking me or receiving any additional information than what they had in November,” Hannah-Jones stated.

At one point, Hannah-Jones considered the five-year offer without tenure that UNC offered but changed her mind.

“I accepted it after going through months and months of the tenure process. This is my Alma mater. I love the university. The university had given me a lot and I wanted to give back. It was embarrassing to be the first person to be denied tenure,” she said. “It was embarrassing and I didn’t want this to become a public scandal. I didn’t want to drag my university through the pages of newspapers because I was the first and the only Black person in that position to be denied tenure so I was willing to accept it.”

She said she believes she did not initially get tenure due to concerns from university members about her work on The 1619 Project, a collection of writings published by The New York Times Magazine that re-examines the legacy of slavery in America. Hannah-Jones has faced critical backlash in the past from conservatives, including former President Donald Trump. She told King that unrelated to The 1619 Project, the board had no other reason to not initially grant her tenure application.

“So it’s pretty clear that my tenure was not taken up because of political opposition because of discriminatory views against viewpoint and I believe my race and my gender,” Hannah-Jones said.

Thousands of UNC faculty, alumni, and students spoke out in support of Hannah-Jones, and many public figures praised her work while criticizing the university’s actions. Hannah-Jones earned a master’s degree from UNC in 2003. She had previously said she would not join the faculty unless she was granted tenure.

UNC trustees voted 9-4 to accept Hannah-Jones’ tenure application at a special meeting last Thursday. In a statement after the vote, R. Gene Davis Jr., vice-chair of the board and leader of Wednesday’s meeting, said: “Let me be perfectly clear. Our motto is Lux et Libertas, light and liberty. We remain committed to being a light shining brightly on the hill. We embrace and endorse academic freedom, open and rigorous debate and scholarly inquiry, constructive disagreement, all of which are grounded in the virtue of listening to each other.”

Hannah-Jones told “CBS This Morning” that the back and forth between UNC and the treatment of student protestors who attended the closed sessions helped affirm her decision to not go to UNC, despite those who say she should stay at the predominantly White university to help students understand the work that she does.

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