UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media (Photo by Mihaly Istvan Lukacs/Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.)
UNC-Chapel Hill is still working to transfer all of the funds belonging to the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting. More than a month after Newsline first reported on the conflict between the society and university and two weeks after a deadline the school set for completing the transfer, the society is still waiting on more than $1 million.
As Newsline reported last month, the society had to cancel planned programming and a successful internship program as it waited more than six months for UNC-Chapel Hill to transfer its holdings — nearly $4 million — to its new home at Morehouse College in Atlanta.
After repeated pleas from the society’s founders, an emergency meeting and a warning they would go public with the conflict, university officials set an internal deadline of June 30 to complete the transfers. As of Friday, however, the UNC Media Relations office said a final $1.2 million of the $3.8 total has yet to be transferred.
“We have completed the transfers for 11 of the 13 total funding agencies in addition to individual gifts,” the office told Newsline via email. “We continue to work with the remaining two funders to complete transfers according to their guidance, direction and relevant policies.”
The society, named for the pioneering Black investigative journalist, is dedicated to increasing and retaining the number of reporters and editors of color in news organizations. One of its signature programs: a summer investigative reporting internship that funds paid internships on investigative teams at publications like The New York Times, Miami Herald, Washington Post, Associated Press and Pro Publica. College students chosen for the program and funded by the society have won some of the most prestigious awards in journalism — including the Pulitzer Prize.
The society expected to have its funding in place at Morehouse, the renowned historically Black college in Atlanta, in time to select, fund and place 10 interns well before summer. Without access to the money, the society had to cancel that program this year. It also had to scrap a planned program for high school students at N.C. Central University.
“This is all of our funding,” Nikole Hannah-Jones, the Pulitzer-winning journalist and bestselling author who cofounded the organization, told Newsline last month.
“It’s all of our operating funding, all of our grant money, our quasi-endowment,” Hannah-Jones said. “Without it, we can’t work toward our mission, we can’t do any of our work.”
The funding — which consists mostly of donations and grants from individuals, foundations and corporations — was held and managed by the university during the society’s time there, a standard arrangement for groups of its kind headquartered at academic institutions. UNC-Chapel Hill and the society estimate the total amount at $3.8 million. Certain grant or donation agreements require funds given to the society be returned to the foundations for re-granting in the event of a move, but even those processes are not usually so prolonged.
The society’s move to Morehouse wasn’t its first. But the group has never had this kind of trouble in transitioning from one university to another, its founders say. Created in 2016, the society was originally based at City University of New York’s Newmark School of Journalism. It transferred to the Shorenstein Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 2018. A year later, it found a new home at UNC-Chapel Hill, where Hannah-Jones earned her master’s degree.
In each of those moves transferring funds took little more than a month, according to sources directly involved in the process.
The society’s move from UNC-Chapel Hill to Morehouse came after the high profile controversy over Hannah-Jones joining the faculty at the UNC’s journalism school.
Two years ago, Hannah-Jones was being courted by the school to become its Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism, a position that was to come with academic tenure. But at the eleventh hour, UNC-Chapel Hill’s Board of Trustees denied Hannah-Jones a vote on tenure.
The story, first reported by NC Newsline, generated international headlines. Further reporting illuminated the political depths of the tenure conflict, including heavy lobbying against Hannah-Jones’ hire from conservative mega-donor Walter Hussman, for whom the journalism school was renamed following his $25 million pledge to the school in 2019. Hussman cited objections to Hannah-Jones’ award-winning 1619 Project, concerns about her political views and objections to her writing about reparations for Black Americans for slavery.
Intense pressure from students, faculty, alumni and some of the top names in journalism ultimately forced an up-or-down tenure vote. Though the board ultimately approved a tenure offer, Hannah-Jones instead accepted a position at Howard University in Washington, D.C. There she created the new Center for Democracy and Journalism at one of the nation’s most prestigious Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
Hannah-Jones has so far raised $24 million for the center at Howard. That funding is unrelated to the society.
UNC-Chapel Hill reached a legal settlement with Hannah-Jones over the episode last year, paying her $74,999.99 — a penny shy of the threshold that would have required approval by the UNC System’s Board of Governors. During negotiations, Hannah-Jones told Newsline, the university attempted to get her to agree to a lifetime ban on her teaching at the campus. She wouldn’t agree to that but did agree not to apply for employment with UNC-Chapel Hill through Jan. 1, 2028.
Hannah-Jones said she still has affection for the journalism school, its students and the university where she earned her master’s degree. But it became apparent she wasn’t welcome there, which meant the society needed to find a new home.
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