The debacle of higher education

Yesterday the entire academic blogosphere blew up in a rage over a poorly reasoned post on the Chronicle of Higher Education's blog by Naomi Schaefer Riley.  She wrote in favor of the elimination of African-American Studies PhD programs.  I say "wrote in favor of" because to say "argued" would have given even fallacious arguments a bad name.  Here's a taste:

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.

The post was entitled "The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies?  Just Read the Dissertations."  Sadly, the author didn't read any dissertations, abstracts or extracts.  She read synopses of works in progress.  Her objections are then almost pure speculation:

But topping the list in terms of sheer political partisanship and liberal hackery is La TaSha B. Levy. According to the Chronicle, “Ms. Levy is interested in examining the long tradition of black Republicanism, especially the rightward ideological shift it took in the 1980s after the election of Ronald Reagan. Ms. Levy’s dissertation argues that conservatives like Thomas Sowell, Clarence Thomas, John McWhorter, and others have ‘played one of the most-significant roles in the assault on the civil-rights legacy that benefited them.’” The assault on civil rights? Because they don’t favor affirmative action they are assaulting civil rights? Because they believe there are some fundamental problems in black culture that cannot be blamed on white people they are assaulting civil rights? 

I'd point out that affirmative action and civil rights are not coextensive terms (and besides, is that even the argument of the dissertation?).  Anyway, in addition to embarassing herself hugely by not reading the unwritten dissertations she claims are evidence of shoddy thinking and then criticizing them, she only picked out three examples, as if these three dissertations were sufficiently representative of all of the work in African American Studies.

Thankfully, the students reply here.

Garbage such as this does not belong in the first draft of an undergraduate paper.  Somehow, however, it found itself in Chronicle of Higher Education.  So here's how the editors defend themselves:

Many of you have asked The Chronicle to take down Naomi Schaefer Riley’s recent posting, “The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations.” I urge readers instead to view this posting as an opportunity—to debate Riley’s views, challenge her, set things straight as you see fit. Take a moment to read The Chronicle’s front-page story about the future of black studies, written by Chronicle reporter Stacey Patton and weigh in.

If this is the justification for posting Schaefer Riley's piece, then it's appears the Editors of the Chronicle have no standards at all.  Making matters worse, Schaefer Riley defends herself (post here), writing:

Finally, since this is a blog about academia and not journalism, I’ll forgive the commenters for not understanding that it is not my job to read entire dissertations before I write a 500-word piece about them. I read some academic publications (as they relate to other research I do), but there are not enough hours in the day or money in the world to get me to read a dissertation on historical black midwifery. In fact, I’d venture to say that fewer than 20 people in the whole world will read it. And the same holds true for the others that are mentioned in the piece. 

She will forgive the commenters who do not understand that she can invoke evidence she has not seen to criticize arguments that haven't been made and advocate the elimination of academic programs she knows nothing about.

And there is enough money to get *someone *to read a dissertation on black midwifery: it's likely to be the salary of an Assitant Professor.

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3 Responses to The debacle of higher education

  1. Jem says:

    20 people! More like five.
     
    This line kills me too:
     
    A word to the wise: If you’re trying to convince the wider world that black people in America are oppressed, I’d skip using the experience of black graduate students as an example.
     
    Hah! Black graduate students couldn't possibly be oppressed.

  2. Teh Roxxors says:

    Sign it:
    http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/challenge-the-chronicle-of-higher-education-to/

    I like the switch up in her defence from “these works are significant enough to draw sweeping conclusions” to “these works are so insignificant, how can you expect me to read them”. Or, if you prefer, “I’m happy to (get paid|spend my time) to write about these, but damned if I’ll spend a minute reading them.”

  3. Pingback: Follow up | The Non Sequitur

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