At one time, higher education, especially as it pertained to cultural studies, was synonymous with fierce ideological debate about what things were most influential in shaping human beings into the creatures they are today. No more. The age of oversensitivity and political correctness has sterilized thought even among thinkers.
The Chronicle of Higher Education, a publication that is both widely read and well respected within the academic community, recently fired a woman named Naomi Schaefer Riley, a contributor to the publication’s blog Brainstorm, for doing what academics were once expected to do: think and analyze. In an opinion piece — yes, this means the publication was paying Riley to offer her opinion in writing on various topics — the writer committed high treason in a society made stupid by oversensitivity taking a contrarian position among academics and writing about an issue involving race.
The writing that ended Riley’s tenure with The Chronicle weighs in at just over 500 words and is entitled “The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations.” The author opines in her piece that students pursing doctoral degrees in the field of black studies focus their dissertations too often on frivolous topics and tired blacks-are-always-the-victim arguments. She references a previous article published by The Chronicle that profiles the “young guns” of black studies; she describes the students’ work as “a collection of left-wing victimization claptrap.”
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.
…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?
Riley, a white academic writing an article for a publication about higher education, points out that many of the students majoring in black studies likely adhere to the popular narrative that nothing has changed racially in the United States in the past 50 years. She also points out that the students’ failure to focus on real issues perpetuates the left’s message that black people are the victim and white people are still their oppressors, despite major race-relations improvements in modern history. Riley should have known she was going to be fired.
Commenters on Riley’s blog, many of them academics (read perpetuators of the plague that is political correctness), attacked her for her insensitivity and for not first reading the students’ dissertations before offering her critique. An online petition with the names of 6,500 people who wanted her fired was also put together and sent to The Chronicle.
“…[S]ince 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,” Riley responded in her own defense. “I read some academic publications … 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.”
Her response elicits two reactions from this author: 1) She is correct. An individual who is broadly interested in black studies likely would find many more intriguing bits of published material to devour before spending valuable time reading something with a title like “‘So I Could Be Easeful’: Black Women’s Authoritative Knowledge on Childbirth.” (But, of course, I am a white man, so that is probably just a display of the racist, women-hating tendencies that the left wants me to believe I have.) 2) Would Riley have been fired if she had written a similar piece criticizing equally poor efforts by doctoral students on a philosophy tract? Probably not.
Sadly, Riley was fired because her piece focuses critically on black studies. Her argument, though, could be applied to all aspects of the system of higher education, which is quickly seeing all of its institutions turn into profit-driven diploma mills unconcerned with knowledge. Her critique is about the absurdity of institutions of higher learning allowing doctoral students, particularly those studying liberal arts, to graduate with the belief that they are prepared to teach undergraduate students after obtaining credentials in only very specific areas.
She writes to those who disliked her original piece: “Such is the state of academic research these days. The disciplines multiply. The publication topics become more and more irrelevant and partisan. No one reads them. And the people whom we expect to offer undergraduates a broad liberal-arts education (in return for billions of dollars from parents and taxpayers) never get trained to do so. Instead the ivory tower pushes them further and further into obscurity.”
An editor at The Chronicle (which is evidently just as blinded by politically correct nonsense as the institutions it covers and, thus, is averse to harsh critique with even a mention of race) says of Riley’s post:
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.
Since Brainstorm was created five years ago, we have sought out bloggers representing a range of intellectual and political views, and we have allowed them broad freedom in topics and approach. As part of that freedom, Brainstorm writers were able to post independently; Ms. Riley’s post was not reviewed until after it was posted.
I realize we have made mistakes. We will thoroughly review our editorial practices on Brainstorm and other blogs and strengthen our guidelines for bloggers.
The victims win again. And for that, undergraduate students at some university may soon have the option of attending a class on black midwifery or the philosophical importance of never, ever, under any circumstances, hurting anyone’s feelings. Perhaps that will lead us to a sort of victimless, utopian society. It is not likely though, because instances like Riley’s firing happen each and every day due to the efforts of the bleeding hearts and those who feel victimized by our society to silence anyone who says enough is enough. It’s alright, even desirable, to be the victim. Being the victim is a fast-track to the top whether one belongs there or not: Just ask the President.