As best we can make out, the Chronicle's editor, Liz McMillen, fired Naomi Riley for doing what she was hired to do—provide a conservative point of view about current events in academe alongside the paper's roster of mostly not-conservative academic bloggers....Riley herself has an op-ed over there at the Journal. (It's not like this lady is starving for media outlets.)
Recently, the Chronicle of Higher Education published a cover story called "Black Studies: 'Swaggering Into the Future,'" in which the reporter described how "young black-studies scholars . . . are less consumed than their predecessors with the need to validate the field or explain why they are pursuing doctorates in their discipline." The "5 Up-and-Coming Ph.D. Candidates" described in the piece's sidebar "are rewriting the history of race." While the article suggested some are skeptical of black studies as a discipline, the reporter neglected to quote anyone who is.This is, I think, a little more complex than what Riley's supporters are saying. She mocked individual graduate students. This reminds me of the big Sandra Fluke controversy, which got traction because an established media professional took aim at a student. Riley made fun of dissertation titles and breezily threw out the opinion that the entire field of Black Studies was left-wing crap. Maybe it is. I don't know. I'm not reading the dissertations. It's tempting to riff on intuition and to speak provocatively, and that's what bloggers do. If the Chronicle wants bloggers — readable bloggers, bloggers who spark conversation and debate — they need to get that.
Like me. So last week, on the Chronicle's "Brainstorm" blog (where I was paid to be a regular contributor), I suggested that the dissertation topics of the graduate students mentioned were obscure at best and "a collection of left-wing victimization claptrap," at worst.
But combining that blogging style with an attack on named, individual students, where you are speaking from a high platform in the established media... that's the problem, and I don't see Riley stepping up and acknowledging it.
Riley, in this new column, proceeds with her critique of the field of Black Studies... or rather the media's resistance to critique:
[A] substantive critique about the content of academic disciplines is simply impossible in the closed bubble of higher education. If you want to know why almost all of the responses to my original post consist of personal attacks on me, along with irrelevant mentions of Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and George Zimmerman, it is because black studies is a cause, not a course of study. By doubting the academic worthiness of black studies, my critics conclude, I am opposed to racial justice—and therefore a racist.Knowing of this resistance, Riley could have begun her attack with something more sober and fact-based than lampooning the titles of students' dissertations. Maybe she deliberately sought personal attention by writing something too crude and impolite. It certainly worked. I'd never noticed her before and now everyone is talking about her.