Nikole Hannah-Jones, the leading author of the New York Times’s highly controversial 1619 Project, has turned down a tenure offer from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, after the university caved to pressure and approved her tenure appointment.
Hannah-Jones made the announcement on Tuesday during an interview with “CBS This Morning.” Instead, she will be teaching at Howard University, a historically black institution in Washington, D.C., as a Knight Chair in Race and Journalism. She will also lead Howard’s newly founded Center for Journalism and Democracy, which aims to train investigative journalists who focus on “the crisis our democracy is facing,” according to a university press release.
Hannah-Jones was originally set to teach at UNC Chapel Hill’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media as a Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism. The university’s board of trustees first questioned her tenure bid in May, citing concerns about awarding tenure to someone from a non-academic background. Amid mounting pressure from outside and within the campus community, however, the board backed down and announced last week it would grant her tenure.
The 1619 Project spearhead criticized UNC Chapel Hill’s delayed tenure offer, claiming that she was discriminated against for her political view and her identity as a black woman.
“It’s pretty clear that my tenure was not taken up because of political opposition, because of discriminatory views against my viewpoints and, I believe, because of my race and my gender,” she alleged. “I went through the official tenure process and my peers in academia said that I was deserving of tenure. The board members are political appointees who decided that I wasn’t.”
Among a minority opposing the tenured appointment for Hannah-Jones was Walter E. Hussman Jr., a UNC megadonor after whom the Hussman School of Journalism and Media is named. According to emails obtained by news site The Assembly, Hussman told university leaders that he worried about “the controversy of tying the UNC journalism school to the 1619 Project.”
“I find myself more in agreement with Pulitzer prize winning historians like James McPherson and Gordon Wood than I do Nikole Hannah-Jones,” Hussman reportedly wrote in one of the emails. As prominent scholars of the American Civil War and American Revolution, respectively, McPherson and Wood joined other historians in disputing the 1619 Project’s flawed portrayal of historical events.
In May 2020, Hannah-Jones was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for her work on the 1619 Project, which aims to “reframe American history” by presenting the United States as an inherently racist nation founded on slavery. The project consists of a collection of essays that argue, among many other controversial claims, that the real reason for the American Revolution was to preserve slavery, and that slavery was the source of American economic growth in the 19th century.