October 7, 2022

Nikole Hannah-Jones and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have reached a settlement regarding the controversial 2021 dispute after she was offered tenure. The News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C reported the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees Chair David Boliek confirmed the settlement of less than $75,000.

The settlement was reached to avoid a formal lawsuit, which was never filed by Hannah-Jones and her attorneys.

“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,” Boliek expressed in a statement to the newspaper.

Nikole Hannah-Jones

Nikole Hannah-Jones speaks onstage at The Hollywood Reporter 2021 Power 100 Women in Entertainment, presented by Lifetime at Fairmont Century Plaza on December 08, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.

Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Hollywood Reporter

The Pulitzer Prize-winning writer was granted tenure with her position at UNC as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at the Hussman School of Journalism only after being declined the status. Her being offered tenure was the result of widespread backlash, protests, and the threat of legal action.

She denied the offer and went on to accept a role at Howard University.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund Inc., which represented Hannah-Jones throughout the ordeal, released a statement regarding the settlement.

“We believe this settlement is an important element of UNC’s ongoing and much-needed work to address racial inequity at the university, and that it provides Ms. Hannah-Jones with the closure necessary to put this incident behind her,” expressed Legal Defense Fund (LDF) President and Director-Counsel Janai S. Nelson.

“No less importantly, we believe that the settlement is a victory for the right to free expression — a cornerstone of our democracy that has too frequently been infringed or ignored when claimed by Black people and people from other marginalized groups.”

Nikole Hannah-Jones Janai Nelson

Honoree Nikole Hannah-Jones and President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund Janai S. Nelson attend the LDF 34th National Equal Justice Awards Dinner on May 10, 2022 in New York City.

Arturo Holmes/Getty Images for Legal Defense Fund

In its statement, the LDF confirmed the settlement includes three elements. First, the university is set to train 20 faculty and staff through its Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion as advisers for an inclusive search process. These advisers will play an active role in the development of positions, recruitment, screening, interviewing, references, evaluation, and integration of new employees.

The settlement also includes posting a position for an additional trauma-informed therapist with the Multicultural Health Program no later than July 31, 2022, and hiring a qualified applicant for this position.

UNC will practice reserving $5,000 each fiscal year through June 30, 2025. It will be available through the Provost’s Office to pay reasonable expenses for meetings, events, and symposia sponsored by the Carolina Black Caucus upon review and approval by the UNC-Chapel Hill Vice Provost.

“Ms. Hannah-Jones filed a complaint with and was issued a right to sue letter by the EEOC and was prepared to litigate against her alma mater,” Nelson continued, “however, this settlement enables her to be made whole while contributing to improving the climate at the university. She looks forward to continuing her professional work committed to using the power of investigative journalism to expose the truth about the manifestations of racism in our society and training the next generation of aspiring journalists to do the same at her academic home of Howard University.”

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