Gov. Cooper reached out to Nikole Hannah-Jones twice before UNC tenure decision

North Carolina Politics

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Before award-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones made a decision to not accept a tenure offer at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, CBS 17 has learned that Gov. Roy Cooper reached out to her before the university held its Board of Trustees meeting.

According to the governor’s press office, Cooper spoke with Hannah-Jones twice before the trustees meeting and let her know that he hoped tenure would be granted.

Cooper told the UNC alumna that many of her fellow alumni were “proud to stand with her” and believed that she would be an important and valuable addition to the faculty, the governor’s office told CBS 17.

“The decision of Nikole Hannah-Jones is a loss for our university and state. It is but one symptom of a Republican legislative leadership that has broken university governance by appointing mostly ultra-conservative trustees and members of the Board of Governors who toe the legislature’s right-wing line and don’t reflect the diversity of our state,” Cooper said in a statement after Hannah-Jones chose Howard University over UNC. “Our great university’s faculty and students and most North Carolinians value diversity and inclusion and we must change the system so that our appointed university leadership values it too.”

Hannah-Jones was scheduled to teach two courses at UNC this fall. She told “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King she will instead be taking a position as the inaugural Knight Chair in Race and Reporting at Howard University.

“I’ve decided to decline the offer of tenure. I will not be teaching on the faculty of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. It was a very difficult decision. Not a decision I wanted to make,” Hannah-Jones told “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King in an interview.

She helped secure $15 million dollars in funding for the program which according to an eight-page statement released by Hannah Jones, will focus on training aspiring journalists at Howard to report and cover challenges in democracy “with a clarity, skepticism, rigor and historical dexterity that is too often missing from today’s journalism.”

UNC announced in April that it would offer Hannah-Jones a position as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism in July with a five-year contract. She was the first Black person to hold the prestigious faculty position and the only person to be appointed without tenure.

“This was a position that since the 1980’s came with tenure. The Knight Chairs are designed for professional journalists who when working in the field to come into academia and every other chair before me who also happened to be White received that position with tenure… I went through the tenure process and I received the unanimous approval of the faculty to be granted tenure,” Hannah-Jones said. “To be denied it and to only have that vote occur on the last possible day, at the last possible moment, after threat of legal action, after weeks of protest, after it became a national scandal, it’s just not something that I want anymore.”

There were earlier opportunities for the UNC Board of Trustees to vote on whether to give Hannah-Jones tenure and Hannah-Jones says she never got a full explanation as to why her application was not taken up earlier.

UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz released a statement just hours after Hannah-Jones appeared on CBS This Morning.

“I am disappointed that Nikole Hannah-Jones will not be joining our campus community as a member of our faculty. In my conversations with Nikole, I have told her I appreciated her passion for Carolina and her desire to teach on our campus. While I regret she won’t be coming to Chapel Hill, the students, faculty and staff of Howard University will benefit from her knowledge and expertise. We wish her the best,” Guskiewicz said.

Hannah-Jones said she believes she did not initially get tenure due to concerns from university members about her work on The 1619 Project, a collection of writings published by The New York Times Magazine that re-examines the legacy of slavery in America. Hannah-Jones has faced critical backlash in the past from conservatives, including former President Donald Trump. She told King that unrelated to The 1619 Project, the board had no other reason to not initially grant her tenure application.

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

Thousands of UNC faculty, alumni, and students spoke out in support of Hannah-Jones, and many public figures praised her work while criticizing the university’s actions. Hannah-Jones earned a master’s degree from UNC in 2003. She had previously said she would not join the faculty unless she was granted tenure.

Protesters yelled and held signs at the UNC Board of Trustees meeting over Hannah-Jones’ tenure.

More than 70 students walked into the special meeting of the Board with signs that read “Abolish BOT” and “Academic Freedom.”

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