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Creator of the 1619 Project Nikole Hannah-Jones REJECTS UNC’s tenure offer

1619 Project founder Nikole Hannah-Jones has rejected the University of North Carolina’s tenure offer and will go to Howard University instead after protesters brawled during a board meeting and she claimed a ‘powerful donor’ blocked her from the lifetime role. 

The New York Times reporter won the Pulitzer Prize for the 1619 Project which ‘reframed’ American history to focus on when the first Africans arrived to Virginia as slaves.

But the 2019 series of essays has come under withering criticism for portraying American history as fundamentally racist and also containing historical inaccuracies and generalizations

UNC had initially offered Hannah-Jones the role as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at their Hussman School of Journalism – a role which has been appointed with tenure since 1980.

But they later backed out of the offer of lifetime tenure amid criticism of her appointment, and she was offered a five-year contract after officials said they were concerned about her lack of a ‘traditional academic background’. 

Hannah-Jones noted the influence of a ‘powerful donor’ to UNC, a reference to Arkansas newspaper publisher Walter Hussman, who revealed that he had emailed university leaders calling the 1619 Project about the legacy of American slavery ‘highly contentious and highly controversial’ before the process was halted. 

But the decision not to give Hannah-Jones a tenured position sparked further outrage from the left, leading to UNC last week pulling off a second u-turn and deciding to approve her tenure. 

They voted 9-4 to accept her application at a special meeting in a closed-door session that was invaded by her supporters, sparking an ugly brawl. 

But Hannah-Jones has now refused to take up the officer, deciding to instead accept the position of Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at Howard, a historically black school in Washington, D.C. 

Hannah-Jones told CBS This Morning on Tuesday that she will become a member of the historically black university’s Cathy Hughes School of Communication

Hannah-Jones announced Tuesday she will become a member of the historically black university's (pictured) Cathy Hughes School of Communication

Hannah-Jones announced Tuesday she will become a member of the historically black university’s (pictured) Cathy Hughes School of Communication

One week ago, trustees at UNC-Chapel Hill approved Hannah-Jones' tenure, capping weeks of tension that began when a board member halted the process over concerns about her teaching credentials because she did not come from a 'traditional academic-type background'

One week ago, trustees at UNC-Chapel Hill approved Hannah-Jones’ tenure, capping weeks of tension that began when a board member halted the process over concerns about her teaching credentials because she did not come from a ‘traditional academic-type background’

How row over appointment of 1619 Project founder unfolded  

August 2019 – The New York Times begins its 1619 project which aims to ‘reframe the country’s history’ on slavery, but faces criticism from

May 2020 – Nikole Hannah-Jones is awarded the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for her essay

Summer 2020 – UNC start considering hiring Hannah-Jones to its journalism faculty. 

December 2021 – In an email, Arkansas newspaper publisher Walter Hussman – a top donor to UNC – expresses his fears that Hannah-Jones was, ‘trying to push an agenda,’ through the 1619 Project, and that, ‘they will assume she is manipulating historical facts to support it.’

April – UNC announces that Hannah-Jones would be joining the journalism school’s faculty as Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism, traditionally a tenured professorship.

May – Following criticism of the appointment, UNC u-turns and instead says she would take up the position on a five-year contract. This sparks a torrent of criticism, including from black students who claimed they had been neglected. 

Wednesday last week – The trustees ultimately approved tenure last week, voting 9-4 to accept her application at a special meeting with a closed-door session that was invaded by her supporters, sparking an ugly brawl. 

Tuesday – Hannah-Jones announces she has turned down the tenure offer and will go to Howard University instead. 

Speaking to CBS This Morning, she called it ‘a very difficult decision, not a decision I wanted to make.’ 

‘To be denied it (tenure) 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,’ she said.

Faculties of the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media said Tuesday they were ‘disappointed, but not surprised’ at Hannah Jones’s decision to turn down the school’s offer. 

Howard has also recruited the author Ta-Nehisi Coates, who won a National Book Award for ‘Between the World and Me,’ which explores violence against black people and white supremacy in America. Both have been given MacArthur ‘genius’ grants for their writings.

Their appointments are being supported by nearly $20 million donated by Knight Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Ford Foundation, as well as by an anonymous donor, to support Howard’s continued education of and investment in black journalists, the university said.

‘It is my pleasure to welcome to Howard two of today’s most respected and influential journalists,’ Howard President Wayne A. I. Frederick said in a news release. ‘At such a critical time for race relations in our country, it is vital that we understand the role of journalism in steering our national conversation and social progress.’

UNC had announced in April that Hannah-Jones – who won the Pulitzer Prize for her work on The New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project focusing on America’s history of slavery – would be joining the journalism school’s faculty. It said she would take up the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at UNC in July.

But the news was swiftly condemned by conservative political groups with links to the UNC Board of Governors which oversees the state university’s 16-campus system, according to NC Policy Watch

Among the loudest critics was the The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, which argued that Hannah-Jones is unqualified for the position because her 1619 Project was ‘unfactual and biased’. 

The conservative watchdog group said her hiring signaled ‘a degradation of journalistic standards, which should deter any serious student from applying to the journalism school’. 

The appointment was also apposed by millionaire newspaper tycoon Walter Hussman Jr, 75, who donated $25 million to his alma mater in 2019, and who UNC’s journalism department is named after.

‘I worry about the controversy of tying the UNC journalism school to the 1619 project,’ he wrote to Susan King, dean at the Hussman School of Journalism.

Hannah-Jones’ tenure application was halted, and she was offered a five-year-contract as officials said she did not come from a ‘traditional academic-type background’.

Trustee Charles Duckett, who vets lifetime appointments, wanted more time to consider her qualifications, university leaders had said. 

But Hannah-Jones’ attorneys announced in late June that she would not report for work without tenure. 

When the latest vote was taken Wednesday, Duckett voted to approve her tenure application. 

Demonstrators are removed from a closed session meeting of the UNC-Chapel Hill trustees Wednesday as the board prepared to discuss and vote on tenure for distinguished journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones

Demonstrators are removed from a closed session meeting of the UNC-Chapel Hill trustees Wednesday as the board prepared to discuss and vote on tenure for distinguished journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones

They regathered just outside the room, using a bullhorn to shout their frustrations at police who they said pushed them out of the room

They regathered just outside the room, using a bullhorn to shout their frustrations at police who they said pushed them out of the room

Officials had reportedly not communicated the process with the public - which frustrated the demonstrated who were asked to leave the room

Officials had reportedly not communicated the process with the public – which frustrated the demonstrated who were asked to leave the room

The students who had protested outside of the meeting had chanted 'No Justice! No Peace'

The students who had protested outside of the meeting had chanted ‘No Justice! No Peace’

Police are seen confronting protesters who descended on Wednesday's closed-door meeting

Police are seen confronting protesters who descended on Wednesday’s closed-door meeting

The previous decision by trustees to halt Hannah-Jones’ tenure submission sparked a torrent of criticism, including from black students who claimed they had been neglected. 

The school’s board of trustees at had gone into a closed-door session to discuss her appointment soon after the meeting began, which is a standard practice when discussing personnel matters, according to The Daily Tar Heel

Officials had reportedly not communicated the process with the public – which frustrated the demonstrated who were asked to leave the room.

Hannah-Jones wrote in a tweet that the confusion led to black students getting ‘shoved and punched’ instead of attempts to de-escalate the situation. 

‘It should have been communicated how this meeting would go, that tenure proceedings are always held in closed session, and an attempt made to de-escalate.

 Instead Black students were shoved and punched because they were confused about the process. This is not right,’ Hannah-Jones tweeted. 

She added: ‘To be clear: My legal team did not request the closed session. The closed session is the normal procedure for tenure votes and our desire was, for the first time in this process, to be treated by the [board of trustees] like every other tenure candidate.’ 

Protesters and interested parties gather outside the Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill on Wednesday where the University of North Carolina Board of Trustees voted on tenure for Nikole Hannah-Jones

Protesters and interested parties gather outside the Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill on Wednesday where the University of North Carolina Board of Trustees voted on tenure for Nikole Hannah-Jones

A small group of protesters refused to leave the meeting room and police attempted to usher them out

A small group of protesters refused to leave the meeting room and police attempted to usher them out

Deborah Dwyer, a doctoral candidate, holds a sign while gathered with fellow students and alumni on the steps of Carroll Hall, where the UNC-Chapel Hill Hussman School of Journalism and Media is located

Deborah Dwyer, a doctoral candidate, holds a sign while gathered with fellow students and alumni on the steps of Carroll Hall, where the UNC-Chapel Hill Hussman School of Journalism and Media is located

The students who had protested outside of the meeting had chanted ‘No Justice! No Peace,’ The State reported.

Julia Clark, the vice president of the UNC Black Student Movement, told the outlet that an officer who told her to move back had ‘felt threatened.’ 

‘Be afraid,’ Clark said. ‘Be afraid. I want you to be scared, because we are scared on this campus every day.’

The organization’s president Taliajah ‘Teddy’ Vann told The State she was frustrated that the board went into closed session and would not vote in public.

‘What are you hiding?’ Vann said, according to the outlet.

She added: ‘Y’all think y’all are safe hiding behind those doors? You’re not. Because our voices will be heard regardless.’ 

Hannah-Jones wrote in a tweet that the confusion led to black students getting 'shoved and punched' instead of attempts to de-escalate the situation

Hannah-Jones wrote in a tweet that the confusion led to black students getting ‘shoved and punched’ instead of attempts to de-escalate the situation

Hannah-Jones cited political interference by conservatives because of her work on The 1619 Project.  

‘I went through the official tenure process. My peers in academia said that I was deserving of tenure. These board members are political appointees who decided that I wasn’t.’

She noted that UNC-Chapel Hill is her alma mater.

‘I love the university. The university has given me a lot and I wanted to give back. It was embarrassing to be the first person to be denied tenure. It was embarrassing and I didn’t want this to become a public scandal. I didn’t want to drag my university through the pages of newspapers because I was the first and the only Black person in that position to be denied tenure.’

On going to Howard instead, she referred to her childhood during which she was bused to white schools:

‘I spent my entire life proving that I belonged in elite white spaces that were not built for Black people. I got a lot of clarity through what happened with the University of North Carolina. I decided I didn’t want to do that anymore.’  

Behind the New York Times’ hotly-contested 1619 Project: Critics claim the series was riddled with inaccuracies because authors ignored fact-checker’s notes

The 1619 Project won the Pulitzer Prize in 2019. It was praised by some as shining a light on untold history, but lambasted by others, including former President Donald Trump, for what he said was a jaundiced view of the US

The 1619 Project won the Pulitzer Prize in 2019. It was praised by some as shining a light on untold history, but lambasted by others, including former President Donald Trump, for what he said was a jaundiced view of the US

In August 2019 the New York Times Magazine published the 1619 project, a collection of essays, photo essays, short fiction pieces and poems aimed to ‘reframe’ American history based on the impact of slaves brought to the US.

It was published to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of enslaved Africans in the English colonies.

It argues that the nation’s birth was not 1776 with independence from the British crown, but in August 1619 with the arrival of a cargo ship of 20 to 30 enslaved Africans at Point Comfort in the colony of Virginia, which inaugurated the system of slavery.

The project argues that slavery was the country’s origin and out of it ‘grew nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional.’

That includes economic might, industry, the electoral system, music, public health and education inequities, violence, income inequality, slang, and racial hatred. 

However, the project is debated among historians for its factual accuracy.

In March 2020 historian Leslie M. Harris who served as a fact checker for the project said authors ignored her corrections, but believed the project was needed to correct prevailing historical narratives.

One aspect up for debate is the timeline. 

Time Magazine said the first slaves arrived in 1526 in a Spanish colony in what is now South Carolina, 93 years prior to the landing in Jamestown. 

Some experts say slaves first arrived at present-day Fort Monroe in Hampton, instead of Jamestown. 

Others argue the first Africans in Virginia were indentured servants as laws on lifetime slavery didn’t appear till 17th century and early 18th century, but worked essentially as slaves.    

Princeton historian Sean Wilentz criticized the 1619 Project’s ‘cynicism,’ according to the Atlantic magazine. 

He distributed a letter signed by historians that asked the newspaper to correct what it said were factual errors.

The letter said the series was ‘ displacement of historical understanding by ideology.’

Newt Gingrich in a 2019 USA Today article said the project was a lie and that ‘there were several hundred thousand white Americans who died in the Civil War in order to free the slaves.’

In March 2020, the New York Times wrote a seemingly half-hearted ‘clarification’ to part of the 1619 project on a part of the series that said one of the primary reasons the colonists fought in the American Revolution was to protect slavery.

The clarification read: ‘We recognize that our original language could be read to suggest that protecting slavery was a primary motivation for all of the colonists. The passage has been changed to make clear that this was a primary motivation for some of the colonists. A note has been appended to the story as well’

Also that month, a professor, Leslie M. Harris, who helped fact-check the project wrote in Politico, said that she’d repeatedly argued against Hannah-Jones against the idea that the people who fought in the American Revolution to preserve slavery.

‘I vigorously disputed the claim,’ she wrote in the Politico op-ed. ‘Although slavery was certainly an issue in the American Revolution, the protection of slavery was not one of the main reasons the 13 Colonies went to war.’

Despite the expert’s advice, the Times published the story without changing the inaccuracy, something that ‘stunned’ Harris, she wrote. 

‘In addition, the paper’s characterizations of slavery in early America reflected laws and practices more common in the antebellum era than in Colonial times, and did not accurately illustrate the varied experiences of the first generation of enslaved people that arrived in Virginia in 1619,’ Harris said, listing another inaccuracy.

Harris did contend that slavery was ‘central to’ the United States’ story, but that it was ‘not, in fact, founded to protect slavery.’


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