The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations. April 30, 2012, 10:24 pm By Naomi Schaefer Riley 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. Then there is Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, author of “Race for Profit: Black Housing and the Urban Crisis of the 1970s.” Ms. Taylor believes there was apparently some kind of conspiracy in the federal government’s promotion of single family homes in black neighborhoods after the unrest of the 1960s. Single family homes! The audacity! But Ms. Taylor sees that her issue is still relevant today. (Not much of a surprise since the entirety of black studies today seems to rest on the premise that nothing much has changed in this country in the past half century when it comes to race. Shhhh. Don’t tell them about the black president!) She explains that “The subprime lending crisis, if it did nothing else, highlighted the profitability of racism in the housing market.” The subprime lending crisis was about the profitability of racism? Those millions of white people who went into foreclosure were just collateral damage, I guess. 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? Seriously, folks, there are legitimate debates about the problems that plague the black community from high incarceration rates to low graduation rates to high out-of-wedlock birth rates. But it’s clear that they’re not happening in black-studies departments. If these young scholars are the future of the discipline, I think they can just as well leave their calendars at 1963 and let some legitimate scholars find solutions to the problems of blacks in America. Solutions that don’t begin and end with blame the white man.Here's James Taranto in the Wall Street Journal's response to the silly brouhaha that resulted!
In the spring of 1987, your humble columnist, then an even humbler undergraduate, was the subject of an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. A young reporter named Michael Hirschorn phoned us to ask about our free-speech dispute with the journalism faculty at the third-tier Western university we were attending. We had been suspended from our college newspaper, ironically enough, for a defense of free speech: an opinion column about a cartoon poking fun at "affirmative action." The cartoon had appeared in the student paper at another university, where, as Hirschorn wrote, it "outraged members of campus minority groups," who successfully demanded the suspension of two editors. They were reinstated after threatening to sue. Although the facts of our case are a matter of public record, we're magnanimously leaving out the names of the people and institutions involved because this is a score we settled long ago. We bring it up in connection with recent events at the Chronicle of Higher Education. Until, oh, a few hours ago, the Chronicle employed Naomi Schaefer Riley, author of two books on higher education, as a contributor to Brainstorm, its blog about "ideas, culture, and the arts." (We should note that Riley is a former editor at The Wall Street Journal and that her husband, Jason, is a member of the Journal's editorial board, as is this columnist.) Riley became an ex-contributor to the Chronicle because some ideas turned out to be too weak to withstand a brainstorm. The brainstorm that set off a firestorm was Riley's April 30 blog post titled "The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations." The Chronicle had published an article on "the young guns of black studies," as Riley put it, with an accompanying sidebar listing "some of the dissertations being offered by the best and the brightest of black-studies graduate students." Riley mocked them as "left-wing victimization claptrap." Was she right? We report, you decide. One is titled " 'So I Could Be Easeful': Black Women's Authoritative Knowledge on Childbirth." Another is a denunciation of blacks who deviate from the leftist party line: "conservatives like Thomas Sowell, Clarence Thomas, John McWhorter, and others," in the words of the Chronicle's report. (We know McWhorter and would describe him as a man of the center left.) A third argues that "the subprime lending crisis . . . highlighted the profitability of racism in the housing market." On May 3 the blog published a response from the authors of those three dissertations. They called Riley's post "a lazy and vitriolic hit piece . . . that summarily dismisses our academic work while debasing us," and went on to complain: "Riley displays breathtaking arrogance and gutless anti-intellectualism. . . . One can only assume that in a bid to not be 'out-niggered' by her right-wing cohort, Riley found some black women graduate students to beat up on. . . . Finally, shame on The Chronicle of Higher Education." The trio complained of Riley's "attempts to silence us personally," but in reality an attempt was under way to silence Riley. "Many of you have asked The Chronicle to take down Naomi Schaefer Riley's recent posting," wrote Liz McMillen, the Chronicle's editor, in a post published contemporaneously with the grad students' response. She answered in the negative:Black victimhood is the latest scam for the brutal grifters pretending to be intellectuals. James Baldwin stayed in an apartment of a friend of mine and completely trashed the place. I rented my own digs to a black administrator at DC University----a joke of an institution anyway----and came back from overseas to find my apartment torn to pieces. I had to refurnish the place and replace rugs thick with filth and the detritus of jungle animals. A few black professionals who work hard and succeed invariably become Republicans. The vast majority of the American blacks have a loser mentality which makes the plantation of the Democratic Party a comfortable place for ne'er-do-wells and misfits like them.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. Please join the debate.McMillen's devotion to debate lasted all of four calendar days. Last night she was brought to heel by "several thousand" would-be censors who "spoke out in outrage and disappointment." The McMillen post announcing Riley's hypovehiculation is a classic of groveling and buck-passing: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. . . . Brainstorm writers were able to post independently; Ms. Riley's post was not reviewed until after it was posted. . . . In addition, my Editor's Note last week inviting you to debate the posting also seemed to elevate it to the level of informed opinion, which it was not. . . . I sincerely apologize for the distress these incidents have caused our readers and appreciate that so many of you have made your sentiments known to us.That last sentence encapsulates the intellectual corruption of academia, a profession that ought to encourage intellectual adventurousness, not pander to those who are unable to withstand the "distress" of having their ideas challenged. But we've been irremediably cynical about academia since our undergraduate days. In our own field of journalism, however, we still recoil at a display of perfidy. It is sometimes a useful exercise to take the things that people say at face value, especially when that is counter to their intended construction. Let's apply that technique to McMillen's post from last night. According to McMillen--whose bio informs us she has been with the Chronicle for over a decade and has been its top editor for nine months--she was ignorant of the publication's "basic editorial standards" until a thousands-strong mob set her straight in the course of seeking to silence one of her writers. Further, as of last Thursday, she was, by her own account, unable to discern what constitutes "informed opinion," or at least incapable of clearly conveying in writing her views on the question. If that is McMillen's honest evaluation of her own abilities as an editor, shouldn't the post have been a resignation announcement? Shouldn't she have left it to an abler successor to decide what to do about the Riley kerfuffle? In that 1987 Chronicle story, Hirschorn noted that "the newspaper's student editors"--present company excepted, we hasten to add--"quickly took the side of the faculty adviser, writing [in an unsigned editorial] that the [paper] had learned a 'valuable lesson in common sense,' and 'any suggestion of censorship . . . is as repugnant as it is untrue.' " With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, we sued and eventually won a favorable settlement. Hirschorn went on to a glamorous career as a magazine writer and TV producer. We long ago lost touch with our fellow student-editors, but as far as we know, all of them went on to work in fields other than journalism. May Liz McMillen prosper by doing the same.