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Howard University just added two more notches to its HBCU championship belt when it caught everyone off-guard Tuesday morning with its latest high-profile hires.

Nikole Hannah-Jones, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist whose public dispute over tenure at the University of North Carolina may have prompted Howard to make her an offer, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, an award-winning writer in his own right, are joining the Cathy Hughes School of Communications as professors effective immediately, the school announced.

Hannah-Jones will serve as the newly created Knight Chair in Race and Journalism — a tenured position — and Coates will be a faculty member in Howard’s College of Arts and Sciences. Together, they will work to establish the Center for Journalism and Democracy.

Howard President Wayne A.I. Frederick said the appointments of “two of today’s most respected and influential journalists” who are also experts on race and culture is a necessity for the future generation of journalists.

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Nikole Hannah-Jones | Source: Monica Schipper / Getty

“At such a critical time for race relations in our country, it is vital that we understand the role of journalism in steering our national conversation and social progress,” Frederick said in a statement. “Not only must our newsrooms reflect the communities where they are reporting, but we need to infuse the profession with diverse talent. We are thrilled that they will bring their insights and research to what is already a world-class, highly accomplished team of professors.”

The positions are being funded by a donation of nearly $20 million from the Knight Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Ford Foundation and one anonymous donor.

The announcement about Hannah-Jones was especially a surprise given her public battle after her offer to be the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism for the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media did not include tenure. After pressure from Black faculty and the community, the UNC board of trustees finally voted last week to grant Hannah-Jones tenure.

But it was apparently too late, as Hannah-Jones and Howard may have been negotiating in the background all along.

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates | Source: The Washington Post / Getty

Hannah-Jones, who is a graduate of UNC’s journalism school, explained why she decided against accepting UNC’s amended offer.

“Historically Black colleges and universities have long punched above their weight, producing a disproportionate number of Black professionals while working with disproportionately low resources,” Hannah-Jones said Tuesday in a statement e-mailed to NewsOne. “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.”

She added: “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.”

Coates, for his part, is no slouch, either. The Howard graduate made a name for himself as a music and culture journalist before being recognized for his historic work at the Atlantic, including a seminal piece in 2014 making the case for reparations. The author of three books has also won the National Book Award for nonfiction in 2015 for “Between the World and Me,” which was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.


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