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Nikole Hannah-Jones Rejects UNC Tenure Offer, Will Teach At Howard University Instead

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Nikole Hannah-Jones, Pulitzer​-winning journalist and creator of the “1619 Project,” has turned down a tenured position at the University of North Carolina and will accept a role at Howard University instead. Hannah-Jones, who will become a tenured faculty member at the historically Black university’s Cathy Hughes School of Communications, announced Tuesday during an interview with Gayle King on “CBS This Morning.” The UNC alumna will take on the inaugural Knight Chair in Race and Journalism role and begin her faculty role this summer. Hannah-Jones will also lead the university’s newly created Center for Journalism and Democracy, training the next generation of Black journalists in investigative and foundational journalism skills. The center will seek to work with other journalism programs at HBCUs nationwide, which is critical when historical facts surrounding race are actively being suppressed.

“We are at a critical juncture in our democracy, and yet our press does not reflect the nation it serves and too often struggles to grasp the danger for our country as we see growing attacks on free speech and the fundamental right to vote,” Hannah-Jones said in a statement. “In the storied tradition of the Black press, the Center for Journalism and Democracy will help produce journalists capable of accurately and urgently covering the challenges of our democracy with a clarity, skepticism, rigor, and historical dexterity that is too often missing from today’s journalism.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates, a former correspondent for The Atlantic, will also join the faculty at the HBCU, which he attended in the ’90s. Coates will become the Sterling Brown Chair in the Department of English at the university’s College of Arts and Sciences. Thanks to more than $20 million in financial contributions from the Knight Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and an anonymous donor, the roles are funded. “As our news and information rapidly change, the media must do more to diversify the ranks of newsroom decision-makers who determine the stories that are told,” Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, said in a statement. “We believe the establishment of this center at Howard University will play a critical role in helping to advance this important public interest objective.”

The UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media faculty members said they were “disappointed, but not surprised” at Hannah-Jones’ decision to turn down the school’s offer. Coates and Hannah-Jones are both recipients of the MacArthur “genius” grant, a prestigious five-year fellowship awarded to those “who show exceptional creativity in their work,” according to the MacArthur Foundation website. “Having two MacArthur fellows hired simultaneously speaks to where we’re headed and what we want to expose our students and faculty members,” Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick told HuffPost.

“At this point in particular, where we have to be providing solutions to our nation’s problems in the form of core values, it’s giving [our students] the best and maximum exposure.” Last week, UNC’s board of trustees voted 9-4 to grant tenure to Hannah-Jones. UNC had previously offered the journalist — named the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at the university — a five-year fixed-term contract, breaking with the recommendation of the faculty and the recent history of granting tenure to other Knight Chairs. The board’s initial inaction on her tenure case raised concerns about being discriminated against and ignited a backlash on campus and across the country.

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