Read a PDF of our statement here.
Today, award-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones announced that she has declined an offer of tenure from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). In her first extensive comments since the UNC Board of Trustees voted on her tenure, Ms. Hannah-Jones released the following statement:
“I have loved the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill since I was a child watching Tar Heels basketball on television. Two decades ago, in 2001, I learned that not only had I been accepted into the master’s program at the journalism school at UNC, but that I had received a full-tuition Park Fellowship. I cried from joy. I could not believe how lucky I was to get the chance to learn journalism at a place I had so long revered.
“For the next two years, I practically lived in Carroll Hall, spending more time there than anywhere else, even my apartment. I passed hours and hours in that building, studying, working at the Park Library, soaking in the skills of journalism – as well as its ethics and mandates – from the many generous instructors, sitting in the offices of professors – such as Chuck Stone and Harry Amana – who enthralled me with their stories and guided my steps. I met one of my best friends in the master’s program, and she became my daughter’s godmother.
“UNC took a woman with ambition but no practical journalism training and provided the foundation for all that I would become. And through the years, Carolina has been so good to me; inviting me to give the journalism school’s commencement address in 2017; honoring me with the Young Alumni Award that same year and the Distinguished Alumna Award in 2019; and last year, inducting me into the N.C. Media Hall of Fame.
“I have tried to repay the university by mentoring and supporting students through the organization I co-founded – the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting – and by regularly visiting the campus to give talks and meet with students. And so, a few years ago when Dean Susan King first raised the possibility of my coming to teach at the university, I was deeply honored. As a full-time journalist at The New York Times who had no intention of leaving the profession, I told her I could not consider it. But those who know Dean King, know this woman is relentlessly persuasive and never takes her eyes off the long game. Last year, she came to me with the idea of the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Reporting. Our country was undergoing a racial reckoning, and she talked about the moment we are in and how important it was for the upcoming generation of journalists to have the knowledge, training, historical understanding, and depth of reporting to cover the changing country and its challenges. She told me that Carolina was undergoing a racial reckoning of its own, that its leadership was committed to real change, and that she felt I could play an important role in this effort.
“I knew it would be a heavy load to continue my work as an investigative reporter and take on teaching, but I could not dismiss the security and academic freedom of tenure that accompanied the Knight Chair at Carolina and the opportunity to return to serve my alma mater. After giving her offer a lot of thought, the possibility of coming back to Carolina and formalizing the mentoring and teaching I have been doing for years proved too powerful for me to deny. I said yes, and then, like every other person who has been named a Knight Chair at Carolina, I began the rigorous tenure process.