Nikole Hannah-Jones gets the last laugh

First, her tenure was denied by UNC, thanks to a meddling rich donor; then UNC worked past that and belatedly offered her tenure; now Hannah-Jones has turned them down and taken a tenured position at Howard University. Sweet.

UNC gets its comeuppance and Howard wins out. This is what happens when institutional racism conspires to deny talent.

Big bonus: Ta-Nehisi Coates is going to be teaching creative writing at Howard! Man, all the great students are going to be applying to Howard this coming year, and UNC is never going to live this screw-up down.


  1. says

    I wasn’t going to comment on my desires before the resolution b/c it’s not up to me what HannahJones does, and in this case a win for Howard students is still a loss for UNC students, not to mention whatever inconvenience there is for HannahJones in moving (again!) because of this disruption.

    That said, now that it’s over, it gladdens my heart that she told them to shove it. Organizations who let racism affect their tenure decisions SHOULD be shunned by good teachers everywhere.

    Moreover, this is going to put HELLAHUGE pressure on the next person nominated for that UNC journalism chair, which is also a good thing.

  2. says

    Sadly, any reputational problems at UNC will last until not later than the next UNC-Duke men’s basketball game. And unpacking that is definitely about coopting higher education for political purposes, and far too often on behalf of those who couldn’t meet contemporary admission standards for the programs they’re warping (but for the “large donations”).

    Congrats to Howard, congrats to the students. One wonders, though: Exactly how does one end up on the Board at UNC, and what does that say about “higher education” at that state’s flagship university and campus? (Probably about the same thing as “Board politics” said about the source of one of my degrees, with its mascot “problem” that just masked everything else.)

  3. markgisleson says

    Hannah-Jones was offered a five-year tenure track like all the other qualified hires at universities. That she only had a Masters degree is somewhat common in Journalism but what is less common is that Hannah-Jones simply hasn’t done the work. For a NYTimes journalist, she had few by-lines. She hasn’t taught for a living. She is, in fact, a textbook example of why tenure isn’t offered to unproven new hires (and most new hires aren’t even put on tenure-track).

    The World Socialist Web Site has aggressively analyzed the 1619 project and it doesn’t hold up to academic, historical or political scrutiny. It has been revised since publication, and has not been published in an academic journal (but has been criticized by those who do publish in traditional outlets.) Unsurprisingly, the WSWS had something to say about UNC’s buckling under outside pressure:

    Tenure should be easier to get, but I do not understand any argument claiming it should be given upon hiring. Even common laborers have to usually complete a 45- or 90-day probation period. She had a five-year contract, so there was no rush, and — barring scandal — almost certainly would have been awarded tenure well before her contract expired.

    Try googling up some academic job postings offering tenure upon hire. There are none. The best postings offer tenure-track only (no promises). And, of course, this entire conversation is a poke in the eye with a sharp stick for adjunct professors, grad students, visiting professors and other non-tenure track professors.

  4. Akira MacKenzie says

    Wow! In my many years on this blog we’ve had Bible-humping creationist trolls, racist trolls, TERF and libertarian trolls. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a class reductionist troll come to excuse Trumpian racism using a façade of leftism.

  5. kome says


    I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make. The people at UNC with the most knowledge and expertise relevant for making a decision regarding whether or not she deserved tenure voted to grant her tenure. They were immediately overruled by a body of people who next-to-never intervene in these issues, who did so in this instance explicitly because that body of people disagreed with the politics of Hannah-Jones (so much for academic freedom, eh). That’s entirely what the reactions are focused on. No one is saying that being hired in a tenure track job promises tenure. Like, literally no one is saying that or even hinting at that. So what, exactly, is your point?

  6. Akira MacKenzie says

    So what, exactly, is your point?

    My guess, he thinks so-called “identity” politics are a liberal distraction (i.e. it turns off white, male, heterosexual proles, preventing solidarity).

  7. markgisleson says

    @6 What I’m saying is that I worked with the hiring process (dozens of academics but only a fraction of my client base so I’m not claiming to be an expert on academic hiring). Tenure was hard for my clients to get when I retired a few years back but I’m not up-to-date so I checked a bunch of sites for academic job postings and could not find a single posting that assured tenure, let alone tenure upon hiring.

    The more I read from and about Hannah-Jones, I can see why she’d demand tenure upfront. She lacks the usual credentials for an endowed chair (which is not by itself uncommon as academia has become more and more politicized). If you click the WSWS link, you’ll see that Hannah-Jones c.v. is a lot thinner than you might expect if you only read the Awards addendum. Her tenure at the NYTimes was — to me — inexplicable. Her output was absurdly meager, and much of it wasn’t journalism at all.

    Hannah-Jones got the UNC job because she has a slew of awards for having written an essay on American history, and she was a UNC grad so she had a power base there. I have no problem with her getting an endowed chair or tenure track. I just wonder why anyone, Hannah-Jones included, would think a first-time professor/endowed chair on tenure-track would expect immediate tenure.

    I’ve asked this in many forums and no one has yet shown me an example of a newly hired professor being granted tenure in this century with the exception of tenured professors switching universities permanently (not very common and the rules for this vary by university and tend to be quite detailed).

    While I grew up white and male on a farm in north Iowa, it was less than an hour’s drive from where Nikole Hannah-Jones would grow up and go to high school. I think we both transcended our origins. She went from a rural state to being a somebody at the NY Times. I overcame my Republican upbringing to work on campaigns for Ted Kennedy, Roxanne Conlin, Tom Harkin and then as the Democratic party kept moving right, my involvement was more marginal, my candidates more obscure. Hannah-Jones is justifiably far more famous than I am. She’s on top of the world, doing better than any other West Waterloo high school graduate since Dan Gable. But she wanted day one tenure on top of all the winning she’s been doing? This doesn’t add up for me: not politically, not HR-wise, not racial justice wise, not journalistically speaking.

  8. Who Cares says

    You are ignoring what happened.
    The people who decide who gets on the track for tenure unanimously added her to the list of people who should get it.
    Intervention from higher up since they got threatened with losing a donor.
    That is why this blew up like it did. It did not explode since she thought she was entitled to tenure.

  9. snarkrates says

    Mark Gisleson,
    Bullshit. Hannah-Jones was not hired for a tenure track position, but for an endowed chair–and tenure for such a position is normally part of the deal. She was hired because she has a large and impressive volume of work extant.

  10. dean56 says

    “This doesn’t add up for me: not politically, not HR-wise, not racial justice wise, not journalistically speaking.”

    Your continued avoidance of the core issue in her story is interesting. It’s sending (to me) the message that your issue with the initial offer has nothing at all to do with the items you list.

  11. Kevin Karplus says

    I agree with Jaws and Akira Mackenzie—UNC won’t learn a thing from this, unless the black basketball players they are trying to recruit start turning them down and going to a less racist school.

  12. says

    On an interview with Gayle King, Nikole Hannah-Jones says she is “..bringing with me 15 million dollars in resources to help build up investigative reporting and journalism… trying to raise a total of 25 million…”

    They’ve lost faculty other recruits, current faculty, reputation and resources. They have paid a price regardless of whether they learned a lesson.

  13. whywhywhy says

    Before you echo the writings from WSWS, you might want to verify it. The WSWS holds dear to the belief that the American worker is not racist or influenced by racism. They believe this despite the evidence. Having myself grown up in a white blue collar union community, the American worker (much like American history) is often influenced by racism.

    Thankfully, there are folks who have provided excellent insight into the effect of racism on this country. Might I suggest that you read some of Professor Hannah-Jones’ work.

    P.S. If no one is ever hired with tenure at universities, why do they have policies describing the requirements to be hired with tenure? “…an initial appointment with permanent tenure may be made”
    (There are numerous other mischaracterizations and utter BS in your above posts but this one was rather blatant.)

  14. Akira MacKenzie says


    HOW DARE YOU SPEAK ILL OF THE SAINTED WORKING CLASS YOU RUNNING DOG NEOLIBERAL!!!! The proletariat have been brainwashed by the bourgeoisie to be racist, sexist, homophobic, religious. Once class has been eliminated, all that will magically go away. /s

  15. kome says


    I’m still not sure what your point is. You’re arguing about some aspect of this story that is completely irrelevant.
    The tenure committee at UNC – you know, the people in charge of determining if she should get tenure – made the decision to grant her tenure. This decision was overruled by people who tend to stay the hell out of those decisions because they lack the relevant expertise to gauge such things. They overruled the decision explicitly because they (or at least, one of them) disagreed with Hannah-Jones politically.

    These are the facts on the ground. Nothing you’re saying is relevant, or even necessarily true. Perhaps the reason no one can give you an example of the stupid thing you’re asking for is because it has zero bearing on this case at hand.

    So, I ask you again, what exactly is your point? Because you do not seem to be making one directly, merely through hints and implication. Come right out and say what you want to say.

  16. Ridana says

    markgiselson wrote: I just wonder why anyone, Hannah-Jones included, would think a first-time professor/endowed chair on tenure-track would expect immediate tenure.

    Probably because since 1980, Knight Chair appointments have always come with tenure. This is the first time it was denied, and the first time the Board of Trustees had ever gotten involved to see that it was. Also, the nature of this Chair is to recruit working journalists more than academics. So any lack of academic credentials is irrelevant.

  17. unclefrogy says

    other cases may have other characteristics
    why it needs to be said is really difficult to understand
    uncle frogy

  18. garnetstar says

    @8, no matter what your experience, in universities the faculty of a candidate’s department, and their dean, make the tenure decisions, and they get extremely angry even if some higher-up in the administrative line overturns them. In this case it was some big rich guy who didn’t like the political positions he thought he discerned in Hannah-Jones’ work, who leaned on the trustees, who are not involved at all in the tenure decision chain.

    And, as said @13, a great big I Told You So to the trustees. I said at the beginning that, no matter what happened, she’d go to some other university taking her genius award and all her other money with her. And that university would get her and all her money.

    And, as was said, now other professors and their money (or potential money) will be looking askance at UNC, and taking job offers elsewhere. NO ONE will want to be somewhere that the trustees meddle with!

  19. Erp says

    I took a look at UNC’s ladder for approval with the levels being

    department full professors (sometimes also associate professors)
    department chair
    school dean (sometimes with a formal committee)
    university wide “Appointment, Promotion and Tenure Committee” consisting of 12 elected faculty.
    Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost (one person, two titles)
    Board of Trustees

    In my opinion, the only circumstance where I could legitimately see the Board of Trustees overturning the decision of the Provost would be if there were major disputes down the line (everyone else said yes and the Provost no or vice versa) and the board felt there was misconduct by the Provost in making the decision. It would also be equivalent to telling the Provost to resign or be fired.

  20. says

    Of course, Mr Gisleson (@4, @8) has missed the real irony here: The reason that Ms Hannah-Jones needs tenure is precisely the reason that the Board of Trustees denied it. It wasn’t denied for merit; it was denied for politics, by people who don’t know the field offering their “supervisory input” on areas they don’t understand. A Board of Trustees is for oversight, not for… meddling. It’s similar to “civilian control of the military” not extending to individual promotion decisions (right, Lt Col Vindman? oh, that didn’t work? I only wish that was unique).

    PS One of my more-renowned undergraduate instructors had only a bachelor’s degree. He had an endowed chair and tenure. He was also a Poet Laureate of the United States; that’s not far off from receiving a MacArthur Grant recipient (like Ms Hannah-Jones)… and she at least has a graduate degree, in a field in which there are very, very few PhDs compared to English.

  21. chrislawson says

    Hannah-Jones, co-founder of Ida B Wells Society for Investigative Journalism and the 1619 Project. Author of over 20 NYT editorials, and many more. Winner of the following awards:

    2007, 2008, 2010: Society of Professional Journalists, Pacific Northwest, Excellence in Journalism Award
    2012: Gannett Foundation Innovation in Watchdog Journalism Award
    2013: Sidney Award
    2013: Columbia University, Paul Tobenkin Memorial Award
    2015: National Awards for Education Reporting, first prize, beat reporting
    2015: National Association of Black Journalists, Journalist of the Year
    2015: National Magazine Award finalist, public interest
    2015: Education Writers Association, Fred M. Hechinger Grand Prize for Distinguished Education Reporting
    2015: Emerson College President’s Award for Civic Leadership
    2015: The Root 100
    2016: George Polk Award, radio reporting
    2017: MacArthur Foundation Fellowship
    2017: National Magazine Award winner, public interest
    2019: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Distinguished Alumna Award
    2020: 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary

    Conclusion: NHJ is a highly accomplished journalist who has made a massive impact on the field.

    @markgisleson: NHJ has a flimsy record, her NYT pieces barely count as journalism, does not deserve tenure.

    Conclusion: markgiselson does not know how to judge publication weight, does not understand the academic tenure process, does not know what journalism is (editorials can’t be journalism? even highly researched one?) and is unaware that plenty of humanities academics have been granted tenure positions on much less than NHJ’s record.

    @markgisleson: “This doesn’t add up for me: not politically, not HR-wise, not racial justice wise, not journalistically speaking.”

    Conclusion: Believing there is something devious and anti-racial justice about an accomplished black journalist applying for a tenured position and the university giving it to her, but nothing at all wrong with her application being sniped by a rightwing blowhard who bought his way onto the board and should have no say in these decisions — remember that when the story blew back on him, this fucker went on Tucker Carlson’s Neo-Nazi Talent Hour to stick the knife deeper in NHJ’s ribs, a betrayal of his university and basic human integrity which should have got him booted off the board never to be given a position in academia again — well, the only explanation is that markgiselson’s mind has been infested by motivated reasoning worms.

  22. snarkrates says

    UNC is on its way to Oklahoma U status, with basketball substituted for football.

    In a famous incident, the OU chancellor begged for more funding from the Lege by saying he wanted a University the football team could be proud of.

    During the financial crisis, the Indigenous tribes actually bailed out the OK department of Education so they could pay teachers’ salaries.

  23. markgisleson says

    I finally tricked google into finding a good source on this story: the Knight Foundation.

    Previous occupants of this endowed chair at UNC were all offered tenure from day one. That was never clear from other articles I’ve read all of which used “tenure” loosely without explanation (nor is it clear to me why Google had so much trouble showing me a month-old Knight Foundation response to UNC).

    Tenure upon hire is new to me. As I said earlier, I retired some time ago when such arrangements were incredibly uncommon. Frankly, I’m still surprised to learn that while tenure has become more difficult for most professors to get (21% currently, a few decades ago it was more than half), it’s now part of the deal for endowed chairs which means foundations are now picking future senior faculty.

    I still stand by everything in the WSWS link. As for all of Hannah-Jones’ awards…well, feel free to be as impressed as you want to be.

  24. dean56 says

    “Tenure upon hire is new to me. ”

    So you were clueless about the situation with the offer, didn’t bother to look for details, spouted a lot of crap in which you completely ignored the key issues, now say you’ve found out you were wrong, but stand by your first comments?

    You’re a prime example of explaining why nobody should take anything you say seriously without being straightforward about it.

  25. kome says


    I still stand by everything in the WSWS link.

    Of course you do, despite having zero grounds to do so. You wouldn’t want to let the relevant facts of the matter get in the way of having an honest and good-faith view about whether a black woman could possibly be genuinely accomplished in her field, a field in which you know next-to-nothing. It would, of course, occur to you to question the legitimacy of a black woman who has received national and international accolades by the professional community to which she belongs but you do not, but it appears to not occur to you at all to question the legitimacy of a website that regularly goes out of its way to downplay or outright deny the influence of racism, sexism, and other prejudicial ideologies on various forms of social or economic injustice (seriously, to take just a single example, the many articles on that site that paint the murder of George Floyd as an instance of only classism with no significant hint of racism involved are quite intellectually, and morally, disgusting).

    I say this with all due seriousness – nothing you’ve said in this thread at all suggests you have had any familiarity with the inner workings of academia, whether broadly or specifically as it relates to tenure. You come across as a lame troll who is trying to convert pop media portrayals of tenure and academia into some pretentious argument defending the explicitly political intervention to deny Hannah-Jones tenure because you seem to take umbrage with the possibility that the politics of racism and sexism might be responsible for keeping people of color or women from being treated fairly.

  26. Akira MacKenzie says


    Don’t beat around the bush. Just say what’s really on your mind: i.e. The American working class are made up mainly of white, male, cis-heterosexuals who support right-wing policies because they’d rather see nonwhites, women, LGBTQIA+ people suffer than work with them to overthrow capitalism. Therefore, anyone who points out the systemic culture of racism in America only further alienates white workers from the Left, so you must cast dispersions on Hannah-Jones and her research the same way an Oil Barron rejects climate science scientists and their data.

  27. snarkrates says

    Mark Gisleson: “Tenure upon hire is new to me. As I said earlier, I retired some time ago when such arrangements were incredibly uncommon.”

    Bullshit, such arrangements have been commonplace for over 100 years. Einstein when he was negotiating with Caltech and Princeton insisted on tenure. If an individual has a body of work that demonstrates their ability to lead the field, tenure is often a perq. in the package. It is very common with endowed chairs. The fact that you are not familiar with it tells us about your limited experience, not about what is usual or unusual.

    Hannah-Jones published a series of articles that changed the dialog with regard to the founding of the country. If it pisses conservatives off, it is doing something right.

  28. garnetstar says

    Mark Gielson, I myself, who am speaking right now, got tenure upon hire at the university I am at now.

    So did the biological chem professor we hired right before me.

    You know nothing.

  29. says

    I don’t know of anyone who was hired with tenure at my university. I had held a faculty position at a different university before I got here, so I was granted accelerated review — after 3 years, my peers looked at my work and said it was good enough to grant tenure.
    New hires don’t get automatic tenure. Only if you’re hired with a prior track record — you’re a hot commodity with multiple universities chasing after you — is tenure given to sweeten the pot. It is more common at larger research universities.

  30. says

    markgisleson @ #25:

    I finally tricked google into finding a good source on this story: the Knight Foundation….

    Your source there is NC Policy Watch. It was the outlet that published the (great) report from which we all originally learned what was happening. NHJ mentions it in her statement. Through your diligent search efforts and successfully evasion of Google’s wily attempts to hide the facts from you, you’ve now arrived where many of us were in May. Your qualifications to judge journalists’ credentials are evident.