Naomi Schaefer Riley was thrown off the Chronicle of Higher Education’s group blog for saying that black studies programs are putting out pseudoscholarship — and giving examples. From her essay:
You’ll have to forgive the lateness but I just got around to reading The Chronicle’s recent piece on the young guns of black studies. If ever there were a case for eliminating the discipline, the sidebar explaining some of the dissertations being offered by the best and the brightest of black-studies graduate students has made it. What a collection of left-wing victimization claptrap. The best that can be said of these topics is that they’re so irrelevant no one will ever look at them.
That’s what I would say about Ruth Hayes’ dissertation, “‘So I Could Be Easeful’: Black Women’s Authoritative Knowledge on Childbirth.” It began because she “noticed that nonwhite women’s experiences were largely absent from natural-birth literature, which led me to look into historical black midwifery.” How could we overlook the nonwhite experience in “natural birth literature,” whatever the heck that is? It’s scandalous and clearly a sign that racism is alive and well in America, not to mention academia.
Thousands of people wrote to the Chronicle to protest the racial insensitivity, etc., in Schaefer Riley’s essay. Gosh. I don’t know how she manages to keep up her racist chops, given that she’s been married for some time to a black man. Anyway, shoot one, teach future bloggers that they can never make fun of “scholarship” if the scholars are part of an official victim class.
UPDATE: As I say in the comments below, Riley’s blog post was not a sterling example of the genre, and she left herself open to strong criticism. I have no problem with that. But firing her for an ill-considered blog post? Really? That’s not about upholding the Chronicle blog’s standards. It’s about heretic hunting. If you don’t believe that, spend some time reading the comments left on Riley’s initial blog entry, and the one she wrote defending herself. And read Chronicle blogger Laurie Essig’s consideration of the contretemps, in which she calls Riley’s post “hate speech.” Excerpt:
On the other hand, I do not believe all speech is free. I do not believe attacks against the most marginalized members of academe or society (and believe me, that is Shaefer Riley’s oeuvre) are “free” as opposed to “hate.” I do not believe that the sort of angry and often illogical attacks that Shaefer Riley spews or Fox News broadcasts are the same as engagement with the issues from a conservative perspective. Instead, I am fairly certain that Shaefer Riley and Fox News make intellectual debate impossible because they so often come at their subjects with dangerously little knowledge and a very creative relationship to facts.
I cannot imagine why the editors at Brainstorm thought someone like that added to the intellectual richness of the blog. I hope they write a response to the many people who are now wondering whether Brainstorm is racist.
The “R” word! Run for the hills! If Riley had read every line in all the dissertations she critiqued, I would bet cash money the reaction would have been the same: that she was racist for suggesting that there’s a problem with Black Studies to begin with. Here is a subsequent Laurie Essig post in which she appears to say that “anti-racism” is good, because it defends the marginalized, but criticizing “anti-racism” in the academy is “anti-racialism,” and it’s bad because it defends whitey.
The point is not that Naomi Schaefer Riley said something badly (she did). The point is that she said it at all.
The more I read of the Chronicle blog, the more thankful I am that I did not go into academia.
UPDATE.2: More about why Naomi Schaefer Riley is critical of obscurantist studies from an interview about a book she wrote claiming that students are often taken for a financial ride by colleges. Knowing this about her adds significant context to the comments that got her fired by the Chronicle of Higher Education. For Riley, it’s not about race, but about what she regards as something of a scam by colleges charging exorbitant tuition for … what, exactly? More:
LOPEZ: Does it really take eleven years to get a doctorate in English? Is some of that about balancing family life, and only to be expected?
RILEY: That’s the median time. But people have always had other things going on in their lives, so what’s the difference now? It’s the research again. As Louis Menand pointed out in a 2009 article for Harvard Magazine, “people are uncertain just what research in the humanities is supposed to constitute, and graduate students therefore spend an inordinate amount of time trying to come up with a novel theoretical twist on canonical texts or an unusual contextualization.” With thousands of Ph.D.s being minted every year, topics are drying up by the minute. …
LOPEZ: Should there be a campaign theme here? The next tea party?
RILEY: The theme should definitely be: Where are our higher education dollars going? The Center for College Affordability and Productivity has recently come out with a study on Texas showing that, at the public universities, 20 percent of the professors are doing 80 percent of the work. And a lot of the professors aren’t doing any of the work! …
LOPEZ: Do we really have the luxury to care right now though? The economy what it is? A time of war? Other priorities?
RILEY: College debt is about to reach a trillion dollars in this country. I think we can find time for this debate.