Nikole Hannah-Jones Will Join Howard University’s Faculty
Ms. Hannah-Jones will start a journalism center at Howard University, one of the country’s leading historically Black colleges and universities. U.N.C.’s board of trustees had failed to consider tenure for her until she threatened legal action.
Nikole Hannah-Jones will join Howard University instead of University of North Carolina.
Nikole Hannah-Jones won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary last year for her introductory essay to the 1619 Project.Credit…Evan Agostini/Invision, via The Associated Press
By Jenny Gross
July 6, 2021, 8:55 a.m. ET
The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones said on Tuesday that she would join the faculty of Howard University, a surprise announcement that came less than a week after the University of North Carolina’s board of trustees voted to grant her tenure, reversing its earlier decision.
Ms. Hannah-Jones, a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine, had been appointed as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at U.N.C.’s Hussman School of Journalism and was supposed to start there this month. But her appointment had drawn criticism from conservative board members who took issue with her involvement in The Times’s 1619 Project, which re-examined slavery in the United States.
The board initially failed to approve tenure recommendations from the journalism school’s dean and faculty, effectively denying her tenure. Weeks later, after U.N.C. staff, students and prominent alumni spoke out against the board’s decision, and after Ms. Hannah-Jones said she had retained legal counsel and was considering filing a discrimination suit, the board reversed and offered her full tenure.
Ms. Hannah-Jones said Tuesday that the decision to decline the offer had been difficult and that the treatment of her by U.N.C., where she received a master’s degree, had been deeply painful.
“I, literally since the second grade, have been in white institutions,” she said in an interview, describing how she had to show again and again that she was worthy. “I’ve proven all that I’m going to prove. And I just really wanted to use the talent, the platform, the resources that I have managed to commit over time and to bring them to a Black institution where I won’t have to prove that, and where I can help other young, Black journalists — who come, many of them, from disadvantaged backgrounds themselves — to be able to compete.”
Ms. Hannah-Jones, whose honors include receiving a “genius grant” from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, will be a tenured member of Howard University’s Cathy Hughes School of Communications, serving as the newly created Knight Chair in Race and Journalism. She will also found at the university the Center for Journalism and Democracy, which will train and support aspiring reporters in investigative skills and analytical expertise.
The author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates, another MacArthur fellow, will also join the faculty of Howard University, which is one of the country’s leading historically Black colleges and universities.
“It is my pleasure to welcome to Howard two of today’s most respected and influential journalists,” said Wayne A. I. Frederick, Howard University’s president. “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.”
Ms. Hannah-Jones said she had received offers from many prestigious universities and chose Howard University because she had long wanted to help develop Black journalists and contribute to Black institutions.
“I was always conflicted about whether the place that had the most need for me, where the students had the most need for me, was going to be a predominantly white institution,” she said. “After what happened with North Carolina became public, after I started seeing the extent to which there was political intervention in this, it just became very clear to me that this was what I wanted to do now — that I didn’t need to try to find a workaround to try to work with H.B.C.U.s, that I could just go there.”
U.N.C. did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The 1619 Project traced the legacy of American slavery through essays, photography and a five-part podcast, and Ms. Hannah-Jones won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary last year for her introductory essay. The project has faced criticism from some historians, who have expressed reservations about some of its assertions. After publishing the project, The New York Times issued a clarification that only “some” colonists fought for independence primarily to defend slavery.
Jake Silverstein, the editor of The Times Magazine, has defended Ms. Hannah-Jones and her writing. “There’s no doubt that, given the chance to learn from Nikole, future graduates of the Center for Journalism and Democracy will create the sort of revealing and unflinching journalism that has been a hallmark of her work for decades,” he said in a note to New York Times staff on Tuesday.
Ms. Hannah-Jones will continue to write for the magazine, he said.