Tag Archives: Chronicle of Higher Education

Things that are not equivalent at all, part MMXXI

Someone at Real Clear Politics has weighed in on the Naomi Schaefer Riley firing (talked about by us here and here–see links).  Part of her defense, not the worst part sadly, involved the following equivalence:

Yet most left-of-center commentators who have weighed in — such as Atlantic editor and blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates and Center for American Progress fellow Eric Alterman — have condemned Riley and defended her firing. Their argument is that, while Riley has a right to her opinions and criticism of black studies is not racist, her post was so "lazy," "sloppy" and "ignorant" that such "know-nothing hackery" has no place on the blog of an academic publication. That's because Riley freely admits she did not read the dissertations she lampooned but relied on The Chronicle's summaries (not, as some have mistakenly claimed, the titles alone).

Is this a sloppy approach for a 520-word blogpost? First, let's turn the political tables. Suppose a left-wing academic blogger had poked fun at stupid Ph.D. dissertations from conservative Christian colleges arguing that homosexuality can be cured or that teaching evolution undermines students' morals — and based her post on a magazine's summary of the thesis topics. Would those tut-tutting at Riley's laziness demand actual perusal of such works?

Does one need to point out that there is a major difference between right-wing quackery about curing gays and the immorality of evolution and the entire academic field of Black Studies?  Apparently so.  Well, there's a difference.

What is it?  Homosexuality is not a disease and evolution is a well-established scientific theory. 

Also, black people exist.

*Bonus for reading the comments to the post at RCP: liberals apparently are the real Nazis, like Rachel Maddow.

via Washington Monthly.

When the Mob Attacks!

If you haven't had enough…

The kerfuffle surrounding the recent canning of CHE blogger Naomi Schaefer Riley has once again made obvious the inherent racism deeply entrenched in our public discourse. Just because you don't mean to be racist does not mean that you aren't. On the other hand, if someone points out that you are a racist, that does not then ipso facto make them an apparatchik for the PC police. These points should be obvious, but we find people repeatedly failing to understand them and continuing to advance poor arguments that rest on racist assumptions. Riley should be fired because what she wrote was racist. What she wrote was also stupid, and that is another legitimate reason to fire her. But to deny that what she wrote indicates her racially motivated biases is dumb.

Unfortunately many people (on the right, of course!) have argued that the reason for NSR's firing was due to the outcry from the liberal PC academic mob rather than her racist comments. Here are a few examples:

This is plainly a politically correct response to a thug's veto and should be owned up to as such. (Reason)

All those hoodie-wearing academics exercising their veto powers.

The reason they gave Naomi the boot wasn’t because of anything she wrote, but rather the effect her writing had on their readers, who generally reacted as though they were suffering from a case of the vapors. (Weekly Standard)

I wonder if they have fainting couches in those ivory towers?

Ms. Riley wasn’t fired because her argument lacked sufficient intellectual vigor. She was fired because a sufficient number of people had their feelings hurt and deemed her ouster — as opposed to a rebuttal of her arguments — the more reasonable course of action. (FrontPage)

Yes, exactly! Her argument had no intellectual rigor. Hence, no rebuttal. Except for all the rebuttals.

And finally, the money shot:

The great irony, of course, is that the whining and gnashing of teeth from the “Black Studies” crowd only reinforces Naomi’s point about the “discipline.” You’d never see chemists or physicists or mathematicians worked into a hysterical mob by a critical blog post. Because they study actual fields of knowledge—and don't simply tend the garden of their own feelings. (Weekly Standard)

You would never see these folks worked into a hysterical mob because there are no critical blog posts attacking the legitimacy of their very existence. The irony.

Now, this is a point that people fail to grasp whenever they accuse someone of demanding racial justice Politcal Correctness: Sometimes people have hurt feelings because an injustice was done. And sometimes the correct response to injustice is to work yourself up into a hysterical mob and…write a petition.

Follow up

Last week I commented on the ironically sad critical skills of Naomi Schaeffer Riley, nunc quondam blogger for the Chronicle of Higher Education.  "Quondam" because they canned her.  One should never, or rarely, take pleasure in someone's loss of a job, paid or not, but in this case it was obvious that Schaeffer Riley had no business writing anything that would be published.

Here's what the Chronicle said:

When we published Naomi Schaefer Riley’s blog posting on Brainstorm last week (“The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations”), several thousand of you spoke out in outrage and disappointment that The Chronicle had published an article that did not conform to the journalistic standards and civil tone that you expect from us.

We’ve heard you, and we have taken to heart what you said.

We now agree that Ms. Riley’s blog posting did not meet The Chronicle’s basic editorial standards for reporting and fairness in opinion articles. As a result, we have asked Ms. Riley to leave the Brainstorm blog.

I suppose kudos are in order for now agreeing, better late than never I suppose.  Seems like it might have been obvious from the very start that this person had no argument worth reading.

As pointed out on Leiter (here and now here), some segments of the right have gone into full victimization mode.  Go to the link, but in case you don't, it's all wrong of course.  When I read it, the commenters had fully made the point the editorial completely failed to grasp.

Of course, now that someone has had her argument trashed, enter the Iron-Manners:

But Chester Finn Jr., an education analyst and aide to Ronald Reagan, said that Riley was dismissed for expressing unpopular views. "Vibrancy, it seems, has been replaced by political correctness and intimidation," he wrote.

Vibrancy?  Via Leiter, this has to be the most iron of all iron men.  This person describes Schaefer Riley (is it just Riley?) as a "major critic of black studies":

Noting that there were legitimate problems to address about the plight facing the black community today, Riley argued that they were not being addressed in black studies departments. Instead, she argued, all they wanted to do is engage in arguments that blame everything on the white man.

Argued?  For Pete's sake.  This was nothing like the post.  Maybe these are good arguments.  Maybe they're not.  But they are not the arguments at issue.  What's at issue here are the very crappy arguments that Schaefer Riley actually made, you can still read them if you want.  Changing the subject doesn't make her crappy arguments any less crappy.

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.