Nikole Hannah-Jones said her tenure battle with the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill was “100% worth it in every way” because she was “overqualified” and “met all the standards.”
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the “1619 Project” and New York Times journalist gave a virtual talk hosted by Penn State University on Tuesday. The talk, titled “1619 and the Legacy that Built a Nation,” centered around the importance of teaching critical race theory and the 1619 Project in classrooms. However, Hannah-Jones also spoke about her very public tenure fight with UNC earlier in 2021. (RELATED: Nikole Hannah-Jones Declares Opposition To CRT ‘Fake Hysteria’ And A ‘Propaganda Tool’ To ‘Stoke White Resentment’)
When asked why she decided to “take on the added excitement” of teaching at a university, Hannah-Jones jokingly replied, “well, I’m clearly insane; I don’t have time to do the ten jobs I already have.”
“In some ways, I have always had such a heart for students because I just remember how challenging it was for me not coming from a family of a lot of folks who went to college, how hard it was for me to navigate both college and my early career,” she went on to say. “So I have spent my adult life trying to be for others the person I really needed when I was trying to make it and come up.”
Hannah-Jones briefly referenced her teaching work with the Ida B. Wells Society, which she co-founded nearly five years ago. “So I’ve been mentoring” and through the Ida B. Wells Society, “teaching and training, sometimes students and sometimes working journalists in investigative techniques.”
The Pulitzer Prize winner then recounted her offer to become a tenured professor as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Reporting. “A few years ago, Susan King, who was the Dean of the Journalism School, started talking to me about coming to teach at Carolina, and I kept telling her no because I just couldn’t figure out how I would fit it in,” Hannah-Jones said. “I just didn’t have time, and she finally convinced me that I should do it; she was going to be leaving, retiring in a few years, and it was my alma mater, and it was just this chance to really formalize the giving back that I was already doing.”
Hannah-Jones then smiled and said, “So, I agreed to do it, and y’all probably know how that went.”
In the summer of 2020, UNC entered discussions with Nikole Hannah-Jones about the Knight Chair position, which was approved to be changed to focus on race and investigative journalism. In January 2021, after Hannah-Jones was nominated for a tenure position by UNC Provost Bob Blouin, at least one member of the Board of Trustees asked to delay the process.
According to a letter from Dean King, a month later, UNC formally offered Hannah-Jones a five-year contract that paid $180,000 per year, a $100,000 “start-up package,” and an additional $9,000 in relocation assistance. Hannah-Jones would only have had to teach two courses per semester, work on journalism projects about structural racism, and participate in faculty meetings to receive tenure consideration during or by the end of her five-year term. Hannah-Jones reportedly agreed to the offer in private.
In May 2021, left-leaning NC Policy Watch published an article asserting that Hannah-Jones was not offered a tenure position due to conservative political pressure. After a protest by Hannah-Jones and her supporters, trustees voted to approve her tenure 9-4. Hannah-Jones denied UNC’s tenure offer and instead joined Howard University, a historically black university. She serves in a tenured position alongside prominent fellow critical race theorist Ta-Nehisi Coates.
At the Penn State speaking event, the moderator read an excerpt of Hannah-Jones’ response statement to UNC and then asked Hannah-Jones to open up about the “painful” and “very public tenure process at UNC-Chapel Hill.”
“What you said in your response statement resonated really loudly for I think faculty of color, but just people of color working in mostly white spaces.” “Has the fight been worth it? Have you heard from people who are encouraged by that fight?”
“Oh God yes,” replied Hannah-Jones. “Just personally, it would have been 100% worth it because I was right. I was overqualified, I met all the standards, I went through the process, and I was stopped because people didn’t believe in my politics.”