The White House weighed in on Tuesday about 1619 Project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones’s decision to turn down a tenure offer at the University of North Carolina and instead head to Howard University after long-simmering drama over a lifetime faculty appointment.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki praised Hannah-Jones by saying the students at Washington D.C.’s Howard University are “quite lucky” to have the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist join the faculty. Hannah-Jones announced her decision Tuesday to turn down a tenure offer in Chapel Hill following a controversial employment fight and called on the university to do better in its treatment of Black students and faculty.
“Students at Howard are quite lucky to have her as a professor in their family,” Psaki said Tuesday when asked by a reporter whether Hannah-Jones’ treatment at UNC was an example of “systemic racism.”
Psaki said she had not personally talked to President Biden about Hannah-Jones’ decision to head to Howard, a historically black college and university (HBCU), but said Biden is committed to tackling systemic racism.
“There’s no question that there continues to be systemic racism in our country,” Psaki said during the White House press briefing. “We see that in a range of sectors including in some learning institutions.”
“Addressing racial equity is a central priority” for Biden and a “crisis” that he would like to focus on during his presidency, she added.
Hannah-Jones blamed political interference by conservatives and objections by a wealthy donor for her stalled tenure at the University of North Carolina. The Black journalist won a Pultizer for her work on The New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project that focused on the long history of American slavery. Conservatives and some historians have blasted the work for inaccuracies and sought to block any effort to teach the 1619 Project material in schools.
“These last few weeks have been very dark,” Hannah-Jones said in a written statement Tuesday about her decision to leave UNC. “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 university ultimately voted 9-4 in her favor to grant tenure, but Hannah-Jones said Tuesday she’s taking a job instead as the inaugural Knight Chair in Race and Reporting at Howard University “where I can do my work unimpeded.”