09 Jul 1619 Savant to join Howard as Inaugural Knight Chair
Nikole Hannah-Jones, appointed Knight Chair in Race and Journalism
“These last few weeks have been very dark. To be treated so shabbily by my alma mater, by a university that has given me so much and which I only sought to give back to, has been deeply painful.
“The only bright light has been all of the people who spoke up and fought back against the dangerous attack on academic freedom that sought to punish me for the nature of my work, attacks that Black and marginalized faculty face all across the country.
- Dean Susan King who, in a vacuum of leadership, has exhibited courage, integrity, honesty, and a refusal to be bullied even if it cost her. This is why I wanted to come work under her leadership.
- My colleagues across the country who spoke up with vigor and outrage and to whom I am so very grateful.
- The faculty at the School of Journalism and Media and across campus who spoke truth to power and stood up not just for me, but for the academic integrity of North Carolina’s flagship university.
- The Carolina alumni who sent letters, made calls, and applied public pressure to the Board of Trustees to maintain the integrity of the process and the university.
- The advocates, including members of the state legislature and the local NAACP branches.
- All the universities that reached out to offer me a home, where, as one dean of journalism put it, I would be given “tenure and respect.”
- My amazing legal team: the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., Levy Ratner PC and Ferguson, Chambers and Sumpter, P.A., for your guidance and for providing me with the best representation in the country.
- The New York Times, where I will continue to work as a magazine staff writer.
- And most of all, the students at Carolina, who protested and fought to hold the Board of Trustees accountable, even as you were treated with disrespect by the institution charged with serving you.
“I cannot adequately express my gratitude to you all. But I will not be joining the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a professor.
“I cannot imagine working at and advancing a school named for a man who lobbied against me, who used his wealth to influence the hires and ideology of the journalism school, who ignored my 20 years of journalism experience, all of my credentials, all of my work, because he believed that a project that centered Black Americans equaled the denigration of white Americans. Nor can I work at an institution whose leadership permitted this conduct and has done nothing to disavow it. How could I believe I’d be able to exert academic freedom with the school’s largest donor so willing to disparage me publicly and attempt to pull the strings behind the scenes? Why would I want to teach at a university whose top leadership chose to remain silent, to refuse transparency, to fail to publicly advocate that I be treated like every other Knight Chair before me? Or for a university overseen by a board that would so callously put politics over what is best for the university that we all love? These times demand courage, and those who have held the most power in this situation have exhibited the least of it.
“The Board of Trustees wanted to send a message to me and others like me, and it did. I always tell college students and journalists who are worried that they will face discrimination, who fear that they will be judged not by their work but for who they are or what they choose to write about, that they can only worry about that which is in their own control: their own excellence. I tell them all they can do is work as hard as possible to make themselves undeniable. And yet, we have all seen that you can do everything to make yourself undeniable, and those in power can change the rules and attempt to deny you anyway.
– “To this day, no one has ever explained to me why my vote did not occur in November or January, and no one has requested the additional information that a member of the Board of Trustees claimed he was seeking when they refused to take up my tenure. The university’s leadership continues to be dishonest about what happened and patently refuses to acknowledge the truth, to offer any explanation, to own what they did and what they tried to do. Once again, when leadership had the opportunity to stand up, it did not.
– “I will be taking a position as the inaugural Knight Chair in Race and Reporting at Howard University, founded in 1867 to serve the formerly enslaved and their descendants. There, I will be creating a new initiative aimed at training aspiring journalists to cover the crisis of our democracy and bolstering journalism programs at historically Black colleges and universities across the country. I have already helped secure $15 million for this effort, called the Center for Journalism and Democracy, with the generous grants from the Ford, Knight, and MacArthur foundations, and have set a goal of raising $25 million. In the storied tradition of the Black press, the Center for Journalism and Democracy will help produce journalists capable of accurately and urgently covering the perilous challenges of our democracy with a clarity, skepticism, rigor, and historical dexterity that is too often missing from today’s journalism.
“Historically Black colleges and universities have long punched above their weight, producing a disproportionate number of Black professionals while working with disproportionately low resources. It is my great honor to help usher to this storied institution these significant resources that will help support the illustrious, hardworking, and innovative faculty at the Cathy Hughes School of Communications and the brilliant students it draws. Thank you, President Wayne Frederick and Dean Gracie Lawson-Borders, for always treating me with dignity and respect, and for offering me a home where I can do my work unimpeded.