WASHINGTON – Journalists Nikole Hannah-Jones and Ta-Nehisi Coates are joining Howard University’s faculty, school officials announced Tuesday in a major recruiting victory for the private institution in the nation’s capital. It was a simultaneous setback for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to lose Hannah-Jones after a long and remarkably contentious effort to recruit her.

The surprising development came less than a week after trustees for UNC-Chapel Hill voted to award tenure to Hannah-Jones. Initially, the public university hired her as a professor without the job-protection status. But its board of trustees approved tenure for her on Wednesday, after faculty members and students at Chapel Hill protested that she had been mistreated.

In an interview Tuesday on “CBS This Morning,” Hannah-Jones said she would not join the UNC faculty. “Very difficult decision,” she told Gayle King. “Not a decision I wanted to make.” The Pulitzer Prize winner said she believed a decision about tenure for her at UNC was delayed because of political opposition to her work and discrimination against her as a Black woman.

Tenure Dispute Slavery Project

Nikole Hannah-Jones attends the 75th annual Peabody Awards Ceremony at Cipriani Wall Street in New York on May 21, 2016. The investigative journalist says she will not teach at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill following an extended fight over tenure there, and instead will take a tenured position at Howard University. Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File

“It’s not my job to heal the University of North Carolina,” she said. “That’s the job of the people in power who created the situation in the first place.”

Top university officials did not immediately reply to a message seeking comment.

Susan King, dean of the UNC-Chapel Hill journalism school, who had championed tenure for Hannah-Jones, said she was disappointed to lose her to another university. “We wish her nothing but deep success and the hope that UNC can learn from this long tenure drama about how we must change as a community of scholars in order to grow as a campus that lives by its stated values of being a diverse and welcoming place for all,” King said in a statement.

UNC journalism faculty members lamented what had happened to Hannah-Jones and said they support her choice. “The appalling treatment of one of our nation’s most-decorated journalists by her own alma mater was humiliating, inappropriate, and unjust,” more than 30 professors and others affiliated with the Hussman School of Journalism and Media wrote in a blog post. “We will be frank: It was racist.”

Now Hannah-Jones will have tenure at Howard in the new position of Knight chair in race and journalism, starting this summer at the historically Black university.

“I am so incredibly honored to be joining one of the most important and storied educational institutions in our country,” Hannah-Jones said in a statement. “. . . One of my few regrets is that I did not attend Howard as an undergraduate, and so coming here to teach fulfills a dream I have long carried.”

Hannah-Jones will also found a Center for Journalism and Democracy at Howard. She said it will aim to train journalism students from historically Black schools to “accurately and urgently [cover] the challenges of our democracy with a clarity, skepticism, rigor and historical dexterity that is too often missing from today’s journalism.”

Tenure Dispute Slavery Project

Author Ta-Nehisi Coates speaks during the Celebration of the Life of Toni Morrison at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York on Nov. 19, 2019. AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File

Coates, an award-winning author known for his work on topics including race and white supremacy, will be a writer-in-residence in the university’s College of Arts and Sciences, and hold the Sterling Brown chair in the English department. He said in an interview that he plans to teach a class in creative writing next year.

“That really is the community that made me,” Coates said. “I would not be who I am without the faculty at Howard.”

Coates also has plans to finish his bachelor’s degree, which he started at Howard in 1993. He hasn’t picked a major but said he’d like to learn more about math, science and economics.

Both appointments are supported by nearly $20 million from an anonymous donor, as well as the Knight Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Ford Foundation, officials said. The additions come at a critical time for race relations in the United States, said Howard President Wayne A.I. Frederick.

“The both of them are, I would say, elite public intellectuals, both of whom are Black and I think have been weighing and participating in the narrative about America and its evolution,” Frederick said.

The twin hires represent an extraordinary coup for Howard. Coates and Hannah-Jones are highly regarded writers who have each produced high-impact work on urgent questions about race in America. Each, too, has received a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant.

Coates won a National Book Award in 2015 for the nonfiction work “Between the World and Me,” an exploration of violence against Black people and white supremacy in the United States written in the form of a letter to his son. He also is known for an influential 2014 article in the Atlantic magazine, “The Case for Reparations,” which argued that the nation should consider ways to compensate Black Americans for its long history of slavery and racial discrimination.

Hannah-Jones, a writer for the New York Times, won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary last year for her essay in the 1619 Project about slavery and history. She was the driving force behind the Times Magazine project, which sought to reexamine American history and the consequences of slavery starting with the arrival four centuries ago of enslaved African people in colonial Virginia. Hannah-Jones holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s degree in journalism from UNC-Chapel Hill.

For UNC, Tuesday’s announcement from Howard could provoke recrimination and soul-searching. The 30,000-student public university had announced in late April that Hannah-Jones would join its faculty in July as the Knight chair in race and investigative journalism at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media. That position, like the one at Howard, would have been supported by the Knight Foundation.

But unlike previous Knight chairs at UNC, the initial appointment for Hannah-Jones as a journalism professor came through a five-year contract without tenure. UNC-Chapel Hill’s faculty and administrators had recommended tenure for her months earlier, but the board of trustees had not yet acted on that proposal, for reasons that were unclear.

Some reports indicated that political concerns about the 1619 Project had led the trustees to delay action. Walter Hussman Jr., an Arkansas newspaper publisher and major UNC donor for whom the journalism school is named, raised questions about hiring Hannah-Jones, according to the news site the Assembly. Hussman denied influencing the school and said he did not threaten to withhold any donations.

In a statement issued through her attorneys, Hannah-Jones said Tuesday that she could not work at UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media.

“I cannot imagine working at and advancing a school named for a man who lobbied against me, who used his wealth to influence the hires and ideology of the journalism school, who ignored my 20 years of journalism experience, all of my credentials, all of my work, because he believed that a project that centered Black Americans equaled the denigration of white Americans,” she said.

Hussman did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Former president Donald Trump and other prominent Republicans have criticized the 1619 Project, saying it undermines patriotism and gives too much weight to issues of race and racism in American history.

The Republican-led legislature in North Carolina wields significant power over higher education in the state through appointments to the UNC system’s board of governors and UNC-Chapel Hill’s board of trustees.

Faculty members, students and other supporters of Hannah-Jones said the case posed a threat to academic freedom and showed inequities in the treatment of Black women in academia. A highly regarded candidate for a chemistry faculty position at UNC-Chapel Hill, who is African American, withdrew from consideration in solidarity with Hannah-Jones.

Pressure grew on trustees to approve tenure for Hannah-Jones as her attorneys wrote in a June letter that she would not accept a position at Chapel Hill without it. The trustees met in closed session Wednesday to deliberate the case and approved tenure for Hannah-Jones on a public vote of 9 to 4.

Afterward, university officials praised Hannah-Jones and said they looked forward to welcoming her to campus as soon as possible. But Hannah-Jones signaled Wednesday that there could be further issues.

In a statement through her attorneys, she said that night: “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.”

UNC officials had been hopeful, after the trustee vote, that Hannah-Jones would accept a faculty position at Chapel Hill on new terms with tenure.

Hannah-Jones’s full-time faculty appointment will be at Howard, Frederick said. He said he built a relationship with the journalist through Coates. Frederick did not say for how long he discussed the appointment with Hannah-Jones, but said the situation at UNC presented an opportunity to bring her to the school of more than 9,000 students not far from Capitol Hill.

The appointments come at a moment of heightened visibility for historically Black universities. Vice President Kamala Harris is a Howard graduate. The university, founded two years after the end of the Civil War, and other historically Black colleges and universities have also been creating new programs and academic centers, making high-profile hires and drawing an influx of donations. Many of the gifts have set records and signaled to other potential donors that a sector of higher education long disenfranchised and marginalized is worthy of investment.

Hannah-Jones shared a similar sentiment.

“I hope that the decision that Ta-Nehisi and I made to bring our talents to an HBCU will lead others to make a similar choice,” she said.

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