Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones can't apply to work at UNC-Chapel until 2028, settlement says

The journalist and UNC alumna was at the center of a tenure dispute last year. Hannah-Jones turned down a five-year contract and went to Howard University instead.

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Bryan Anderson
, WRAL state government reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones won’t be allowed to work for UNC-Chapel Hill until 2028, according to a copy of a recent settlement in a high-profile tenure battle.

The agreement, which resolves a dispute between Hannah-Jones and her alma mater, was obtained Thursday by WRAL News through a public records request to UNC.

The settlement said that Hannah-Jones could still participate, speak or attend events at the university as long as it wasn’t in an employment capacity.

Lawyers for Hannah-Jones didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the settlement’s release and the provision that the journalist not seek employment through Jan. 1, 2028.

“We have nothing further to add,” the university’s media relations office said in an email response.

The UNC alumna was hired as the university’s Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism but was only awarded a five-year contract instead of tenure that prior Knight Chairs had been granted.

The lack of tenure prompted outcry from many UNC students and faculty who believed Hannah-Jones deserved it. They questioned whether the lack of tenure related to her work on the 1619 Project, an initiative from The New York Times that won a Pulitzer Prize and seeks to reframe the country’s history with slavery at the center of America’s identity.

Walter Hussman, a major donor whose name is on UNC’s journalism school, had previously questioned Hannah-Jones, saying the 1619 Project wasn't objective reporting, and he didn't want the school dragged into the national controversy over it. He also privately expressed concerns to Hussman School of Journalism and Media administrators about hiring her.

Hannah-Jones criticized Hussman for not supporting her hiring. Hussman also faced pushback from professors in the program who claimed the episode damaged UNC-Chapel Hill's reputation.

The situation in part prompted the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications to temporarily downgrade UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media.
Following the protests, UNC-Chapel Hill’s Board of Trustees offered Hannah-Jones tenure, which she turned down. She instead took a similar position at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
Last week, the university confirmed that the settlement included a payout to Hannah-Jones of less than $75,000. The document released Thursday shows the university agreed to pay $74,999.99, which addresses all the journalist’s damage claims, attorney’s fees and the $35,000 attributable to the reimbursement of expenses.

The dollar amount enabled Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz to negotiate terms without seeking approval from the University of North Carolina Board of Governors, which oversees the state university system.

Hannah-Jones shared other provisions of the settlement Tuesday in a series of posts on Twitter.

The settlement obtained on Thursday confirms the provisions that Hannah-Jones detailed were included in the agreement she reached with the university.

The university’s obligations include training 20 faculty and staff within UNC’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion as search and selection process advisors who will also be involved in the creation of new positions, as well as recruitment, interviewing and hiring phases. The settlement says the 20 people will receive stipends “to serve as consultants or participants in the search process, identifying and promoting search practices that advance diversity and inclusion and limit the influence of biases.”

UNC also has until July 31 to post a position for an additional trauma-informed therapist within the Multicultural Health Program and later hire a qualified applicant. UNC must further spend $5,000 in Provost’s Office funds each year through June 2025 for meeting expenses, events and symposia sponsored by the Carolina Black Caucus.

“We took these concessions directly from the asks of student and faculty groups and fought very hard for them,” Hannah-Jones wrote Tuesday on Twitter. “We believe that these concessions will help make my alma mater better and help it live up to its promise. As I said again and again: This was never about me.”

The university made no admission of liability in the settlement. It included a provision allowing Hannah-Jones and the university to publicly disclose the agreement and its terms. It was signed by Hannah-Jones on June 27 and by UNC’s vice chancellor for finance and operations on July 2.

In a text message to WRAL News last week after UNC disclosed the less than $75,000 it was to pay to Hannah-Jones, UNC Board of Trustees Chairman David Boliek wrote: “The steps taken to resolve the lingering potential legal action posed by Ms. Hannah-Jones will hopefully help to close this chapter and give the University the space to focus on moving forward.”


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