Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum hates to admit it, but he thinks Nick Gillespie is right to call the Naomi Schaefer Riley dismissal a p.c. outrage. First, this bit from Gillespie, who explains why he thought NSR’s post was lame, even though he shares her skepticism of trends in humanities studies programs. He writes in part:
But I do find the Chronicle’s response absolutely breath-taking and craven in its censoriousness. If the questions raised by Schaefer Riley’s posts are outside the bounds of discussion at a blog about higher education, then why bother having even the semblance of a discussion? And it strikes me as disingenuous to sack someone for a single blog post that did not meet the Chronicle’s “basic editorial standards for reporting and fairness in opinion articles.” … If her opinion is too much to bear – and it plainly is – academic discourse is in far worse shape than even the most anti-intellectual yahoo might think.
Hear, hear. Drum adds:
What Riley wrote was certainly juvenile and almost certainly ignorant. You don’t judge dissertations by their titles, and you don’t judge a field by a few dissertations. And yet: it was a blog post. There should be a lot of room for ill-considered opinions in blog posts. What’s more, I think Gillespie is right: if Riley had written the exact same blog post about, say, Classics or Film & Media Studies, she’d still be working at the Chronicle. Classicists and film buffs would be outraged, but it would be the usual kind of outrage that blog posts and opinion columns provoke all the time.
I’m glad Drum said this, from the Left. Some of my readers keep insisting that I’m defending Riley’s actual post. I’m not. I think it was sloppy. But like Drum, I find it risible to think that Riley would have gotten the boot from that Brainstorm blog if she had made the same remarks about a different field.
Drum says people ought to give a lot more leeway to bloggers, and I agree. One of the reasons blogging is so much livelier and more interesting than most printed opinioneering is because the unwritten conventions of the medium make it possible to say things you wouldn’t necessarily say in print. Nobody who has done this kind of thing for any length of time will have gone without saying something regrettable in haste. It has certainly happened to me. But most blog readers get that, and are willing to give bloggers a lot of grace if their overall output is interesting, and of reasonably high quality. I’ve walked away from Andrew Sullivan’s blog several times over the past decade because I thought he was being outrageously unfair to this person or that point of view. But I always go back because it’s worth reading — and because at times, he backtracks and admits he was wrong. When readers point out to me that I’ve failed seriously at something, I typically go back and correct myself. I think it’s good policy.
Anyway, blogs are a lot more alive, as a general matter, than print — for better and for worse. The risk of bloggers going off half-cocked is there … but so is the reward of fresher, livelier, more engaging copy. I find it easier to forgive my favorite bloggers their sins of judgment and taste than I would to forgive them the sin of being dull and conformist.
BTW, this from Naomi Schaefer Riley, in today’s Wall Street Journal:
But a substantive critique about the content of academic disciplines is simply impossible in the closed bubble of higher education. If you want to know why almost all of the responses to my original post consist of personal attacks on me, along with irrelevant mentions of Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and George Zimmerman, it is because black studies is a cause, not a course of study. By doubting the academic worthiness of black studies, my critics conclude, I am opposed to racial justice—and therefore a racist.
As Ellen Schrecker, a Yeshiva University historian, writes in her book “The Lost Soul of Higher Education,” political ends were the goals of the founders of black studies. Ms. Schrecker—who is, by the way, sympathetic to these political goals—explains that the discipline’s proponents “viewed these programs as contributions to the continuing struggle for racial justice, not as conventional academic courses of study.”