Less than a week after trustees at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill belatedly voted to grant tenure to New York Times reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones, Howard University announced Hannah-Jones will instead be joining its faculty.
Howard, the prestigious historically Black university in Washington, D.C., also announced it is hiring writer and Howard alumnus Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Their positions were funded by nearly $20 million in donations from the Knight Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Ford Foundation, as well as an anonymous donor.
The funding establishes the Knight Chair in Race and Journalism, a tenured position to be held by Hannah-Jones.
Hannah-Jones, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her 1619 Project, will also establish the Center for Journalism and Democracy, which the university says will train aspiring journalists in “the investigative skills and historical and analytical expertise needed to cover the crisis our democracy is facing.”
The news is a blow to UNC, which has had its reputation damaged by its handling of Hannah-Jones’ appointment to an endowed professorship at its journalism school. For months, trustees declined to consider granting her tenure, a highly unusual move considering her tenure was backed by the relevant academic leaders.
Some of the opposition came from Walter Hussman, a UNC donor and Arkansas newspaper publisher who is the namesake of UNC’s journalism school.
As NPR’s David Folkenflik reported, Hussman said “he was given pause by some prominent scholars’ criticism that Hannah-Jones distorted the historical record in arguing that the protection of slavery was one of the Founding Fathers’ primary motivations in seeking independence from the British.”
Hannah-Jones said in a news release that not attending Howard as an undergraduate is one of her few regrets, “and so coming here to teach fulfills a dream I have long carried. 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.”
“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,” she said.