Here are 3 key moments that led to Nikole Hannah-Jones declining UNC tenure offer

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones said she was "intensely happy" in recent days after she declined UNC-Chapel Hill's tenured Knight Chair position.

"I feel like I'm living my purpose," said Hannah-Jones, who will go teach at Howard University.

While looking back on events of the past few weeks, Hannah-Jones can point to three critical moments in which she knew teaching at UNC would not work out.

Hannah-Jones is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has been recognized for her work on The 1619 Project. She was set to join UNC's faculty on July 1 as the Knight Chair for Race and Investigative Journalism, but was not originally given tenure as other previous Knight Chairs have.

Missed deadline

News broke in May that UNC trustees had delayed the tenure vote. A week later, Hannah-Jones and a team of lawyers threatened a lawsuit, giving UNC a June 4 deadline for a trustee vote.

That June 4 date came and went, and "we heard nothing from anyone," Hannah-Jones said.

She said couldn't believe UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz or Provost Bob Blouin had not reached out to her, reported by the News & Observer.

Last Tuesday evening, Hannah-Jones said she hadn't heard from Guskiewicz in more than a month.

"It shows a severe failure of leadership," Hannah-Jones said. "I think it's going to be very difficult to convince the faculty that they have an advocate for what is in the best interest of the university because of the utter silence of what has happened here."


Criticism from donor

According to the News & Observer, a second moment of clarity for Hannah-Jones came from reporting showing the extent to which Walter Hussman Jr had expressed concern for her hire.

UNC's journalism school was named after Hussman, who pledged $25 million in 2019.

Hussman has claimed repeatedly that he did not lobby against her appointment or try to use his influence in this hire. In an emailed statement on Tuesday, he said, "I certainly haven't used any influence on the ideology of the school; in fact, I strongly believe a school of Journalism should not have an ideology. Their job is to teach journalism, not ideology."

Major donor emailed UNC chancellor expressing concern over giving Nikole Hannah-Jones tenure

"It became clear to me at that point I couldn't maintain my dignity and work for a school bearing his name," Hannah-Jones said.

How student protesters were treated

Hannah-Jones said the final straw came on the day of the tenure vote.

On June 30, she said she watched coverage of the vote while in Chicago. At the meeting, trustees voted 9-4 to approve her tenure. Students were shoved out of the room after refusing to leave for the closed session.

UNC journalism dean reacts to Nikole Hannah-Jones turning down tenure offer
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Susan King, the dean of Hussman School of Journalism and Media, reacts to Nikole Hannah-Jones turning down UNC tenure

UNC Student Body President Lamar Richards, who serves on the board, had to call the special meeting to force a vote.

"I was in my hotel room devastated to watch that these students who were protesting in my name and were treated that way," Hannah-Jones said. "All of those things affirmed that this wasn't a job that I wanted anymore."