After an arduous battle for tenure at the University of North Carolina, Nikole Hannah-Jones explained why she rejected an eventual tenure offer from her alma mater and will instead teach at Howard University.
“I don’t want to force myself into an institution that doesn’t seem to appreciate what I bring,” Hannah-Jones told CNN’s “New Day” on Wednesday.
“I don’t know why people find me so threatening. I’m a journalist. I just produce journalism.”
The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and creator of the “1619 Project” had been chosen as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at UNC, the university announced in April.
Despite the recommendation by the tenure committee, her tenure was initially denied by the UNC board of trustees. After protest from alumni, faculty and students, the board changed its decision and offered tenure on June 30.
Hannah-Jones and supporters say politics played a role in the tenure battle. The last two people named to the position at UNC had been granted tenure upon appointment, The New York Times reported.
The UNC Knight Chair position “had been a tenured position since the 1980s at the university,” Hannah-Jones said. “Every other professor – who also happened to be White, before me – had been tenured.”
While she still supports her alma mater and appreciates everyone who backed her at UNC, Hannah-Jones said she stands by her decision to accept a tenured position as the Knight Chair in Race and Journalism at Howard University – a historically Black university based in Washington, DC.
“I’ve been trying to prove myself in predominantly white historically white institutions my entire life,” Hannah-Jones said. “I don’t have anything else to prove.”
After being bussed to White schools as part of a voluntary desegregation order, “I’ve spent my life since then really trying to prove that I was good enough, being in spaces that didn’t value necessarily my perspective, my background, the type of work I wanted to do.”
“The burden to change systems cannot always be on the people who are being excluded from those systems,” Hannah-Jones said.
Professor Susan King, dean of UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media, was one of the supporters who fought for Hannah-Jones’ tenure at UNC.
“We’ll be forever changed here, Nikole, and our faculty are supportive of you greatly,” King told Hannah-Jones during the “New Day” interview.
“I hope that we will be able to continue to really build a better public university, where all students and all of our faculty feel welcome,” King said.
“We would have loved to have done it with you, but we don’t want to put the burden on you, either.”