Nikole Hannah-Jones and Ta-Nehisi Coates joining Howard University
July 6, 2021 11:32 AM   Subscribe

Nikole Hannah-Jones and Ta-Nehisi Coates are joining the faculty of Howard University, creating a center for Journalism and Democracy. Hannah-Jones' has a sharp and clear statement on her new job and her mistreatment by the University of North Carolina.

The news comes on the heels of months of controversy about her UNC tenure application being sabotaged. Her work on the 1619 Project at the NYTimes has made her a flashpoint in a larger coordinated attack on Critical Race Theory. While UNC finally offered her tenure she has refused it in favor of a new chair at Howard University funded by the MacArthur, Knight, and Ford foundations along with a large anonymous donation.
posted by Nelson (49 comments total) 62 users marked this as a favorite
 
Good for her. I hope giving UNC the finger felt good.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:39 AM on July 6 [46 favorites]


tl;dr? (altho' u should!)

UNC BoT:

Fuck around and find out.
posted by lalochezia at 11:46 AM on July 6 [13 favorites]


“Many people, all with the best of intentions, have said that if I walk away from UNC, I will have let those who opposed me win. But I do not want to win someone else’s game. It is not my job to heal this university, to force the reforms necessary to ensure the Board of Trustees reflects the actual population of the school and the state, or to ensure that the university leadership lives up to the promises it made to reckon with its legacy of racism and injustice.

“For too long, powerful people have expected the people they have mistreated and marginalized to sacrifice themselves to make things whole. The burden of working for racial justice is laid on the very people bearing the brunt of the injustice, and not the powerful people who maintain it. I say to you: I refuse.

posted by Gorgik at 11:54 AM on July 6 [157 favorites]


I think this is amazing. The UNC situation was bad, who would want to sign up for a lifetime of doubt and acrimony? Meanwhile you've got Howard (and probably others) banging on the door.

It can't have been easy to leave behind the colleagues and place that she no doubt values but it's clear that the administration did not value her. After the 1619 thing there were two options, embrace or distance, and they distanced. Wrong play that will only grow more obviously and deeply wrong in time.

I look forward to her work at Howard, this is going to be excellent!
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 12:10 PM on July 6 [12 favorites]


This Twitter thread that does a mini-profile of Nikole Hannah-Jones and the megadonor who opposed her tenure is fascinating.

The textbook definition of a guy who was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 12:17 PM on July 6 [64 favorites]


Definitely an own-goal on the side of the Administration. I look forward to seeing what she and Coates do at Howard.
posted by TheKaijuCommuter at 12:17 PM on July 6


I am extremely sympathetic to her and her position but this is more or less exactly what the initial move to deny her tenure was intended to do.

but it's clear that the administration did not value her.

Don't confuse the school administrators with the Board of Trustees, who are the ones that created the issue.
posted by Candleman at 12:17 PM on July 6 [9 favorites]


Honestly, Walter Hussman, the donor who wanted her. out might be quite happy as well - he certainly accomplished his goal and is hardly going to be sad that some left-winger has abandoned UNC for Howard. This is the curse of polarization.
posted by Going To Maine at 12:19 PM on July 6 [21 favorites]


That is an outstanding statement, so eloquent and strong.

(It's wrong of me to always expect academics to be unclear in their writing; I shouldn't be surprised that her use of language is so deft - and of course she was a journalist first and foremost, so she has long experience crafting writing that is both measured and moving. Still - I was surprised. She is an excellent writer.)

There's something extraordinarily liberating in her example - it's so easy to fall into the trap of expectations that if you win, you MUST take what you have won. Seeing her refuse to work for an organization that treated her so badly (and her repeated calls for better treatment for the students, who are also still receiving poor treatment and disrepect) is a powerful example for everyone who has been mistreated and chooses, if they can, to devote their precious lives to those who treat them with respect.

Thank you so much for posting this, Nelson. I'm very grateful to have gotten the chance to read her words.
posted by kristi at 12:24 PM on July 6 [14 favorites]


Lest anyone conflate the actions of the BoT with the general faculty, staff, student ponsition, here's the current statement of the student body president at UNC.
posted by thivaia at 12:25 PM on July 6 [14 favorites]


People this will help: Dr. Hannah-Jones, the student body of Howard University, basically everyone who stands to benefit from Dr. Hannah-Jones' scholarship

People this will hurt: The student body of UNC

People this will not hurt: The UNC Board of Trustees, racists

I agree that this decision was the right one for Dr. Hannah-Jones to make under the circumstances. I'm just sad that the people who deserve to suffer won't.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:25 PM on July 6 [34 favorites]


is hardly going to be sad that some left-winger has abandoned UNC for Howard.

Left-winger from said donor's/the GOP's perspective, I imagine? Both she and Coates (especially Coates) have attracted their share of criticism from the left (including Black leftists, not just white supposed "class reductionists") as well.

Telling that even relatively moderate Black academics are catching so much flak.
posted by supercres at 12:42 PM on July 6 [7 favorites]


he certainly accomplished his goal and is hardly going to be sad that some left-winger has abandoned UNC for Howard

I'm almost afraid to look, but I'm guessing that there's already "she's so ungrateful, we gave her what she wanted and she threw it in our faces" lamentation on the right, isn't there?
posted by hanov3r at 12:49 PM on July 6


I saw this called a classy move and a power play, but it can't be; you can't wrestle with a pig. The ignorant creatures and malicious actors who don't want her there won't feel anything but relief.

It has to be down to how she feels. If she accepted tenure, she would have her whole life to live there -- each commute, each cup of coffee, each trip to the grocery. Would she have been comfortable living there, having a home? Could she be certain that the smell of Fox News wouldn't attract some animal with a gun? I can't blame her for moving on.
posted by Countess Elena at 12:53 PM on July 6 [7 favorites]




What, pray tell, is the point of navelgazing about how the right wing will celebrate this? Nobody is required to choose the shittier path just because it's not what the right wing wants. And looking at the absolutely reprehensible failure of UNC in this situation, any academic offered a job there would probably do better to run away screaming.
posted by sinfony at 1:07 PM on July 6 [70 favorites]


In terms of who it's going to hurt - there's a little more that can be said. You can't lose something you never had, and while the UNC students and faculty would have benefited from having her there in the future, she wasn't there when they joined the school. (Yes, I do know about framing effects and prospect theory, but this is still an important thing to recognize.) Plus, in her message she commits to continuing her loose ties with the students, and she will be a stronger voice in the larger academic community in a place where she has freedom and support. She also made an effort to connect with the students who were shoved out of the board meeting, which hopefully lead to more direct support.

In addition, she's handing off ammo to the people in the school who have been warning about these problems and conflicts of interest for years. Fuck around and find out indeed. There's always that one tenured "moderate" voice in the faculty meeting who says "well it's a gray area and we can't really know what the cost would be." That's not a viable strategy any more. Her actions put teeth in the anti-racist (c.f. Kendi) perspective. And though white supremacists attached to UNC may be happy, it's undeniable that Hussman is the face of a humiliating national situation (she rejected them!), which will hopefully give the rest of the institution some leverage the next time this fuckery rises. It's particularly delicious that the new position is supported by a Knight chair as well, since it's clear to anyone in academia that "wealth begets wealth" whether it comes to accolades, grant money, or prestige, and the Knight foundation is also slapping UNC in the face by supporting her.

It's a baller move.
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 1:07 PM on July 6 [24 favorites]


> Don't confuse the school administrators with the Board of Trustees, who are the ones that created the issue.

100x this, as far as I can tell most of the faculty and students really liked her, and this was very much an instance of the board of trustees massively overreaching.
posted by cirgue at 1:09 PM on July 6 [6 favorites]


This is some Inigo Montoya stuff right here.
posted by jquinby at 1:13 PM on July 6 [11 favorites]


This issue came from the BoT, but we should acknowledge Nikole does address the broader UNC leadership in her statement. They had a chance to stand up to the BoT and defend her, but did not. "...Nor can I work at an institution whose leadership permitted this conduct and has done nothing to disavow it."

On her broader requests for UNC, she also says on its lack of professor diversity: "...These issues predated my tenure and cannot be laid at the foot of a politically appointed board, since the tenure hopes of most Black professors are quashed before they even reach the Board of Trustees."

I'll gladly piss on Art Pope's grave, but the school's issues run deeper than just the BoT+BoG, even though they were the inflection point in this case.
posted by matrixclown at 1:21 PM on July 6 [24 favorites]


And looking at the absolutely reprehensible failure of UNC in this situation, any academic offered a job there would probably do better to run away screaming.

Right. If this doesn't make every academic think twice about working for UNC, then they aren't quite as interested in solidarity as they might say. Of course, everyone has to eat, but people who have choices should think wisely.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:21 PM on July 6 [2 favorites]


I loved the article from The Root that Nelson linked. Glad you made this FPP and added a further link
posted by biggreenplant at 1:30 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


[A]s far as I can tell most of the faculty and students really liked her, and this was very much an instance of the board of trustees massively overreaching.

Perhaps college has changed from when I was a lad (and I didn’t go to UNC either), but rather cynically I would assume that most of the students, uh, don’t actually know who she is.
posted by Going To Maine at 1:32 PM on July 6 [4 favorites]


T. Greg Doucette's long Twitter thread on this is worth reading if you want more unconfirmed gossip, including about the rumored $5M that was supposedly offered to get her to go away (which I hope she got, but we will probably never know...)
posted by demonic winged headgear at 1:45 PM on July 6 [5 favorites]


Charitably, there's an implied parenthetical: "most of the faculty and students (who interacted with her) really liked her."

UNC is a large school, and yeah, I wouldn't expect e.g. the engineering students to have an opinion on her. But of the students who did (or would have) interacted with her, they probably have an opinion. The Internet has made it a lot easier to be aware of these things than back when I was a student, too.
posted by explosion at 1:47 PM on July 6 [2 favorites]


I was a UNC-CH student, Class of 1996, and hold a Journalism degree from there. I've also had Chuck Stone as a professor and spent lots of time at Carroll Hall. It was interesting seeing those old names from the past in Jones' statement.

Those of us who attended the J School, even back then, would've certainly been aware of this whole saga, and very likely aware of the 1619 Project as well. (caveat, data point of one, etc.)
posted by CommonSense at 1:54 PM on July 6 [10 favorites]


"Use to be a playa and a baller ..." Game, Hannah-Jones.
posted by simonelikenina at 2:05 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


> Charitably, there's an implied parenthetical: "most of the faculty and students (who interacted with her) really liked her."

This is definitely a more accurate contextualization, the only professors I know personally are either in the journalism school or in various social sciences departments.
posted by cirgue at 2:25 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


he rumored $5M that was supposedly offered to get her to go away (which I hope she got, but we will probably never know...)

Howard did receive an anonymous $5M donation which was used to partially fund the two positions...

From the first link:
An anonymous donor contributed $5 million to fund the Sterling Brown Chair in English and Humanities and to establish the Ida B. Wells Endowed Fund to support the Knight Chair.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:40 PM on July 6 [9 favorites]


Speaking for myself and my social circle, UNC students are often aware of what the BOT and BOG are up to, since they've been doing a lot of things that have materially impacted the students. There were major cuts to programs when I was there, from things like cutting and consolidating degree programs to getting rid of things like the old Teaching Fellows program. A lot of folks had also had experience in dealing with conservative attacks on statewide programs at the high school level like Governors School.

Not to mention in more recent years things like the disbanding of the poverty and law program, the whole renaming Saunders Hall thing, and last but not least, Silent Sam.

Basically, there's been a long history of conservative leadership at higher levels messing with UNC, and a good chunk of students are aware of this. Not to mention the student body president has been very outspoken throughout this whole process.

Apart from whether or not students are aware of a this, imo, NHJ is right to call this out as a general trend at UNC (and plenty of other universities!) and is very well within her rights to decide that she doesn't want to be the one to "fix" it.
posted by damayanti at 2:41 PM on July 6 [24 favorites]


UNC has already lost other faculty--both faculty already tenured at UNC and those they were wooing--to this.
And here is a statement by the Hussman faculty released today:
While disappointed, we are not surprised. We support Ms. Hannah-Jones’s choice. The appalling treatment of one of our nation’s most-decorated journalists by her own alma mater was humiliating, inappropriate, and unjust.

We will be frank: It was racist.

Our school highly regards Ms. Hannah-Jones’s work, ability, and achievements. We regret that the top echelons of leadership at UNC-Chapel Hill failed to follow established processes, did not conduct themselves professionally and transparently, and created a crisis that shamed our institution, all because of Ms. Hannah-Jones’s honest accounting of America’s racial history. It is understandable why Ms. Hannah-Jones would take her brilliance elsewhere.

Although our school and university espouse the ideals of transparency, equity, inclusivity, and fairness, the proclamation of such lofty goals without accompanying action toward dismantling systemic racism precludes substantive progress. North Carolina’s state motto is “To be rather than to seem.” And yet, Ms. Hannah-Jones would have been only the second Black woman to earn tenure in the School of Journalism and Media, a 70-year-old institution. The first earned tenure a mere three years ago. Ms. Hannah-Jones would have been the sole Black woman at the rank of full professor level in our school; at the university level, only 3.1% of tenured faculty are Black women.

posted by TwoStride at 2:43 PM on July 6 [45 favorites]


A few details I wanted to highlight but didn't put in the post...

I really appreciate the tone and clarity of Hannah-Jones' statement. Starting by talking about her love for UNC really puts her on the high road, which makes the details about her sabotaged tenure case land all the harder.

I'm very curious how this program changes Howard. I don't know much about journalism schools but from what I can tell Howard's current department is quite small; they only graduated two students in 2018-2019. Both Hannah-Jones and Coates are very big names, it could be some significant growth.

It's impressive how quickly the $20M for Howard was pulled together. The three named foundations all make sense — Coates and Hannah-Jones were already MacArthur fellows, Knight funds journalism, Ford funds media and arts. Still $20M and two professorships are a lot to add in a short time.

Also curious what Coates' thoughts are. I focussed the post on Hannah-Jones because she's the big story. Also Coates hasn't said anything about this appointment yet that I could find (he's not on Twitter). But he's a big deal too and I think it's a great move for both him and Howard.
posted by Nelson at 2:50 PM on July 6 [8 favorites]


So I looked at the Board of Trustees webpage and there is a trustee with an aol email address.
posted by srboisvert at 2:53 PM on July 6 [8 favorites]


Don't confuse the school administrators with the Board of Trustees, who are the ones that created the issue.

You can lay some blame with the "centrist" UNC Chancellor and Provost. They both got call-outs in NHJ's statement.
posted by 3.2.3 at 3:24 PM on July 6 [5 favorites]


Hadn't seen the faculty letter before. It's so nice to see one a couple of old professors among the authors! (And I'm surprised they're still there after I left in 1996!)
posted by CommonSense at 3:36 PM on July 6 [3 favorites]


Very good thread by NC journalist Joe Killian.
posted by neroli at 4:02 PM on July 6 [3 favorites]


Let's not fail to appreciate the money, y'all. NHJ needed a better, more welcoming place to teach and $20 million goddamn dollars in donations appeared in Howard's coffers to bring her on board.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 4:12 PM on July 6 [4 favorites]


Nelson: "Starting by talking about her love for UNC really puts her on the high road, which makes the details about her sabotaged tenure case land all the harder."

I agree - but it also powerfully (and yet quietly, in the way that whispering makes people listen harder) reveals the emotional impact of this appalling debacle.

It would be completely justified for her to fight back and demand justice in response to treatment like this from any institution anywhere - but as she makes clear, this place meant (and still means) the world to her. "I will always be a Tar Heel," she says near the end.

And I just get these overlaid images - the primary one, of her calm and ruthless accounting of UNC's callousness and cowardice, plus another, a deeply human person saying, softly, tears in her voice, " ... I loved this place."
posted by kristi at 4:28 PM on July 6 [22 favorites]


People this will hurt: The student body of UNC
The students can heal that hurt by doing as she suggests they do and has conveniently modeled for them: ditch UNC for Howard or another HBCU.

Why should they any more than she remain at a school that betrays their best interests? Who's hurting them? Hannah-Jones for behaving honestly and courageously? Or UNC for knuckling under to pressure from their racist simpleton donor and acting to deprive their own students and reduce the quality of their own J-school?

She did the students a favor by revealing just how much UNC sucks and showing what to do about it. If you're spending a planet-sized pile of money to go to a school that treats you poorly and hurts your future, spend that money to go to a better school that will treat you well and nurture your future.
posted by Don Pepino at 4:33 PM on July 6 [24 favorites]


This thread by a Hussman faculty member is worth reading.
I don't begrudge anyone who feels like leaving UNC after all this, especially if you're Black. Do what you gotta--no judgment here. But I'm not planning on leaving (yet) and I want to say a bit about why.
posted by zamboni at 4:36 PM on July 6 [2 favorites]


Joe Killian was mentioned above (he's with NC Policy Watch, which first reported the tenure denial and has been all over it), but I didn't see a link to his story today that broke the news about Howard. Hannah-Jones noted on Twitter why she gave him the scoop:

The story about the discrimination I faced in the UNC tenure debacle was broken by excellent local reporter @JoekillianPW. So I gave him the exclusive print interview. Local news matters. Please support @NCPolicyWatch and other local news.

The article has some great quotes not in her statement:

“Once the news broke and I started to see the extent of the political interference, particularly the reporting on Walter Hussman, it became really clear to me that I just could not work at a school named after Walter Hussman,” Hannah-Jones said. “To be a person who has stood for what I stand for and have any integrity whatsoever, I just couldn’t see how I could do that.”
posted by mediareport at 8:26 PM on July 6 [16 favorites]


Delighted at this outcome.

Hannah-Jones is embellished in her accomplishments; Joe Killian proves to be a redoubtable champion of a professional colleague; Howard U thunderclaps an important institution into existence; UNC exposes itself as undeserving and undesirable.

The students at UNC miss out on Hannah-Jones - but what an education they are getting in the temper tantrums of the spoilt entitled gerontocracy.
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 9:13 PM on July 6 [7 favorites]


Nelson: Howard's current department is quite small; they only graduated two students in 2018-2019. Both Hannah-Jones and Coates are very big names, it could be some significant growth.
hmmm, accommodation issues coming up. Hannah-Jones could borrow Nancy "MIT" Hopkins' tape-measure to make sure Coates doesn't get the man-sized office.
posted by BobTheScientist at 11:10 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


UNC denying me tenure confirms my life’s work”.

The hope is that this fucks UNC in both the prestige AND the money.

What happens when top-shelf academics decide that they don’t want to teach at a school where racist old white men can pull something like this on a scholar with both a Pulitzer and a Mcarthur “genius” grant?
What happens when top-shelf HS grads start looking askance at UNC, and decide to go elsewhere?

UNC laid down with racist dogs. May they scratch themselves sleepless and bloody with fleas.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 6:47 AM on July 7 [11 favorites]


Or, more cynically, what happens when some top Division I basketball recruit says 'I don't think going to a racist college will be good for my brand'?
posted by box at 8:33 AM on July 7 [9 favorites]


Current fave hot Twitter take:

Among other things, looks like Nikole Hannah-Jones rounded up nearly as much money for Howard in the span of a few weeks as UNC sold out its name and reputation to the Arkansas newspaper baby-man for in the first place
posted by mediareport at 1:36 PM on July 7 [8 favorites]


So I looked on the Board of Trustees webpage and there is a person with an aol email address..

I am a journalist who knows other journalists who do inspiring and groundbreaking work and who have AOL personal email addresses because it was the first thing they signed up for back in the day and not everyone wants to deal with the "Here is my new email address" process.

And I read reader submissions for a living, and plenty of misinformed, uninformed, bigoted, and fallacious writing is sent to us from people who have Gmail and iCloud accounts. So.
posted by virago at 7:14 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]


Some reflective media coverage from the past week:

Nikole Hannah-Jones, Ta-Nehisi Coates appointments signal new era for Howard University. Puts this news in the larger context of Howard University.
Through years of improvements, ongoing pressure from students and faculty and a plan crafted under President Wayne A. I. Frederick’s leadership, some on campus say Howard has transformed into the type of school that can attract large donations and, now, famous faculty. The high-profile hires of Hannah-Jones and Coates excited many on and off campus and signaled another shift for the historically Black institution in the nation’s capital.
Also 'It's a calling': Why Black academics choose HBCUs over other colleges which contains a lot of quotes from professional academics.

What I haven't found is any sort of statement from Coates other than his quotes in the original Macarthur press release. He's stepped back quite a bit from the public sphere, I imagine he has his hands with all his professional writing and he decided awhile back Twitter wasn't for him.
posted by Nelson at 10:57 AM on July 12




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