‘1619 Project’ Creator Rejects UNC’s Tenure Offer After Right-Wing Outrage Over Hiring

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - MAY 16: Author Nikole Hannah-Jones speaks on stage during the 137th Commencement at Morehouse College on May 16, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

New York Times reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones on Tuesday announced that she rejected the University of North Carolina’s offer of tenure, and has decided to join Howard University’s faculty instead.

Hannah-Jones became a target of right-wing grievance after she created the New York Times Magazine’s “1619 Project,” which argues that the founding of the United States happened in August 1619, when the first slave ship arrived in the country. Hannah-Jones won the 2020 Pulitzer Price for Commentary for the “1619 Project.”

Trustees at UNC, her alma mater, initially denied Hannah-Jones tenure in her appointment as a professor at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media — despite having the support of faculty and students — following an outbreak in right-wing hysteria over her hiring. UNC instead opted to offer Hannah-Jones a five-year fixed term with eligibility for tenure review at the end.

Following protests at UNC over Hannah-Jones’ tenure process, university trustees voted last week 9-4 to approve her tenure.

Hannah-Jones, however, did not take UNC up on its offer that, she said, was granted “at the last possible moment” and after “it became a national scandal” fueled by conservative fear mongering over her work. The “1619 Project” has become a boogeyman for the GOP as conservatives hype unfounded fears about the teaching of critical race theory in American schools.

Appearing on CBS on Tuesday morning, Hannah-Jones explained why UNC’s tenure offer became “just not something that I want anymore.”

“It’s pretty clear that my tenure was not taken up because of political opposition, because of discriminatory views against my viewpoint, and, I believe, my race and my gender,” Hannah-Jones said.

In a statement announcing her rejection of UNC’s tenure offer, Hannah-Jones detailed her dismay over its trustees initial decision to cave to bad faith outrage over her hiring.

“The university’s leadership continues to be dishonest about what happened and patently refuses to acknowledge the truth, to offer any explanation, to own what they did and what they tried to do,” Hannah-Jones said. “Once again, when leadership had the opportunity to stand up, it did not.”

“At some point when you have proven yourself and fought your way into institutions that were not built for you, when you’ve proven you can compete and excel at the highest level, you have to decide that you are done forcing yourself in,” Hannah-Jones added.

Hannah-Jones noted that Howard University — where she will serve as the inaugural Knight Chair in Race and Reporting — was founded in 1867 to “serve the formerly enslaved and their descendants.” She will also found a brand new Center for Journalism and Democracy at the university.

“There, I will be creating a new initiative aimed at training aspiring journalists to cover the crisis of our democracy and bolstering journalism programs at historically Black colleges and universities across the country,” Hannah-Jones said.

In addition to Hannah-Jones, Ta-Nehisi Coates — a fellow MacArthur genius grant recipient who rose to prominence in 2014 when he wrote “The Case for Reparations” for The Atlantic — will also join Howard University’s faculty.

Hannah-Jones’ announcement comes as the GOP hijacks “critical race theory” as one of its many faux culture wars. Conservatives have recently pushed their caricature of “critical race theory” as a national issue as legislatures in red states across the country push to ban or discourage teaching on systemic racism in public schools.

The GOP culture war over “critical race theory” — an academic and legal concept that was first developed in law schools in the 1970s — has extended to efforts to recall school board members.

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