Blogger Fired After Calling African-American Studies “Left-Wing Victimization Claptrap”
Writer Naomi Shaefer Riley is out of a job after her harsh criticism of the entire academic discipline of African-American Studies ignited a major backlash. The former blogger for the Chronicle of Higher Education (a publication I always imagined was a rather dry academic journal) was fired after publishing a scathing critique of the field’s supposed irrelevance and race baiting, and then mocking the controversy that followed.
Last week, Riley filed the blog posting, titled “The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations.” Riley sarcastically and snarkily addresses a handful of recent doctoral dissertations, calling them irrelevant, and accusing the scholars of blaming all problems in the black community on white people.
In a response to her critics, Riley seems like she made the mistake of getting bogged down in the meanest and most personal comments she could find. She responds to accusations that she is a bully, and even a racist. As a result, her response is even more defiant, as she believes she is standing up against petty insults.
But Riley does not respond to the most relevant criticisms: that her piece is built on vague and incorrect premises. She mocks the dissertations for seeming “irrelevant;” but Marybeth Gasman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, explains how dissertations throughout all of academia are can be overly specialized, but that this doesn’t make it unimportant:
Moreover, Riley does not understand that dissertations are a mere snapshot of a scholar’s larger research interests. Reading a short description does not provide the socio-cultural context for the work nor an understanding of the scholar’s larger interests and field of study. While Riley is correct that some research is esoteric, this critique is not limited to black-studies programs and in fact, is much more prevalent in other disciplines. However, she doesn’t discount research in more “traditional” disciplines.
Finally, she levels accusations of race baiting against an entire field, providing only evidence gleaned from three abstracts. She then responds that it’s “not her job” to read entire dissertations (or, I suppose, provide any thorough evidence for her wild generalizations.)
One of the many negative effects of this episode will surely be that Schaefer and her supporters will cite her firing as an example of “liberal censorship,” saying progressives are the real bigots. She will join Phil Mushnick and John Derbyshire in the ranks of reactionary, intolerant writers who think they are “persecuted truth speakers,” but are really just intellectually sloppy ranters.
What do you think?