UNC-Chapel Hill chancellor 'disappointed' Nikole Hannah-Jones no longer joining faculty

The chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill issued a statement on Tuesday expressing his disappointment that award-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones would no longer be joining its faculty and has instead accepted a similar role 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,” Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said in the statement.

“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,” he continued. 

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“In my campus message last week, I said 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,” he added. 

Guskiewicz also said he remains “committed to recruiting and retaining the world-class faculty” that students deserve and that he and other faculty “are actively engaged with student, faculty and staff leaders to continue working together toward a more inclusive and equitable campus living, learning and working environment where everyone knows they belong.”

Hannah-Jones was initially tapped by the school to serve as its Knight chair in race and investigative journalism at the Chapel Hill campus earlier this year. She said she was the first Black person to serve in that position since its founding and the only one to be appointed without tenure. 

Controversy unfolded when news broke that the university denied Hannah-Jones tenure in May, with reports at the time linking the move to complaints from conservative groups about her work as lead author of The New York Times’s 1619 Project, which explores the role slavery had in the country’s founding and history.

A school donor, Walter Hussman, whose name is also on the outside of the campus’s journalism school, was among those who pushed back against Hannah-Jones receiving tenure.

According to NPR, Hussman had issues with certain arguments made in the 1619 Project and expressed concerns to administrators as well as one trustee.

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However, school leaders later claimed, amid a fierce backlash to the denial, that Hannah-Jones’s tenure application was terminated because she didn’t come from a “traditional academic-type background,” despite having garnered multiple awards and acclaim for her reporting over the years. 

The controversy has fueled criticism from journalists and academics who said the move to deny Hannah-Jones tenure amounted to overreach and was unfair.

It wasn’t until after weeks of backlash and pressure from academic and journalists that the school’s trustees voted last week to approve tenure for Hannah-Jones.

However, in an interview on early Tuesday, Hannah-Jones instead announced she would accept the role as inaugural Knight chair in race and reporting at Howard University, which is among the nation’s most renowned historically Black academic institutions.

“It's a very difficult decision, not one I wanted to make,” Hannah-Jones said of her decision.