After months of contentious debate, New York Times reporter and “1619 Project” author Nikole Hannah-Jones is now a tenured journalism professor at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill.
In a special meeting last Wednesday, the UNC Board of Trustees voted 9-4 to approve Hannah-Jones’ tenure application. Her tenure at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media became official the following day.
UNC originally announced back in April that Hannah-Jones would serve as the Hussman School’s Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism. Though the position typically comes with tenure, the university instead offered Hannah-Jones a five-year contract, citing backlash from various conservative groups.
She refused and threatened to sue for racial discrimination. Pro-Hannah-Jones protests erupted at UNC in May, and 40 journalism faculty members signed a statement calling the decision to deny her tenure a “failure.”
While the university moved slowly to minimize the controversy, Hannah-Jones said through her lawyers last week that she would not accept any offer without tenure. Fearing more controversy, the Board of Trustees felt compelled to act.
“In (approving Hannah-Jones’ tenure), this board reaffirms that the university puts its highest values first," Trustee Gene Davis said after voting in favor of the motion.
Protesters attending the meeting laughed.
The “1619 Project” is The New York Times’ ongoing effort — started by Hannah-Jones in 2019 — to place slavery as the foundation and center of American history. It asserts that the colonists fought the American Revolution not for their independence from British tyranny, but for the right to keep their own slaves.
History shows that this is ludicrous, as the British also kept slaves until 1833 — 57 years after the colonists signed the Declaration of Independence. As such, the “1619 Project” has been criticized across the political spectrum. In December 2019, five historians penned a letter to The New York Times requesting that corrections be made.
Walter Hussman, the CEO of WEHCO Media and namesake of UNC’s journalism school, told The Daily Tar Heel last month that he was concerned about Hannah-Jones’ ideology and the “1619 Project” overshadowing his “core values.”
“I don't think the public wants journalists to tell them what they should think about,” Hussman said. "I think they want to get the facts and make that determination themselves.”
UNC’s journalism school was named for Hussman after he made a $25 million donation in 2019.
UPDATE: On Tuesday, July 6, Nikole Hannah-Jones turned down her tenure offer from UNC. She will instead join the faculty of Howard University, a historically black institution in Washington, D.C.