the naomi schaefer riley/black studies thing

For the last few days, I’ve been getting a  lot of email over a recent blog post in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The author, Naomi Schaefer Riley, wrote a post about how Black Studies should be eliminated because of the low quality of its research, especially its dissertations. Not surprisingly, there was an outcry and the Chronicle fired Schaefer.

Even though I’ve spent my career analyzing the discipline of Black Studies, I’ve been slow to respond for a few reasons. I was traveling while this broke out last week. Scholars within Black Studies are perfectly capable of defending themselves. Also, I didn’t want to comment while people slinging mud back and forth. Instead, I’m writing a detailed commentary for the Teachers College Record that will appear next month.

Probably the most important reason that I didn’t rush to respond is that I’ve heard this before, many times. While doing the research for my book on Black Studies’ history, I read many, many calls for the elimination of Black Studies from conservative pundits.* The roster of conservative Black Studies haters is a long one: San Francisco State’s John Bunzel (1969), Martin Kilson at Harvard (1970s), Charles Sykes’ Profscam (1988), Dinesh D’Souza Illiberal Education (1991), John Derbyshire in National Review Online (2002), Robin Wilson in the Chronicle of Higher Education (2005), and now we have Naomi Schaefer (2012). There are so many, I’m sure I’ve missed some good ones.

The pattern goes something like this. A conservative writer will get an op-ed, or blog post in modern times, and call for the elimination of the field. Sometimes, it’s part of a book attacking higher education for being too liberal. Then, liberals will jump into the fray. There are charges and counter charges of racism. Then, silence for a few years and the whole pattern starts over. It’s an academic Seinfeld episode. No hugging, no learning.

When I read Schaefer’s criticism, I just said to myself, in a Reaganesque tone, “There you go again.” It becomes so predictable after a while, so bland. Even within the history of Black Studies skepticism, Schaefer’s screed isn’t that insightful. Basically, the entire blog post is simply picking a few unfinished dissertations and mocking them. Dissertations certainly deserve criticism, but Schaefer even admits that she hasn’t read them. She just hates the concept of the dissertations. For example, one mocked dissertation addresses the role of Blacks among midwives. Schaefer finds this to be a silly topic. All I can say is that a conservative who thinks childbirth to be unworthy of scholarly attention reveals an epic smallness of mind.

That’s why I didn’t rush into this. No need to jump into a predictable fight that I’ve seen too many times before. Instead, I’ll slow down and write a detailed commentary on a question that I wish that Schaefer had addressed: who gets their own their own discipline? In the mean time, I’ll be happy to watch from the sidelines. Maybe, if Schaefer decides to explore the field of Black Studies and do the readings, I’d be happy to send her a copy of my book and we could have an extended discussion about Black Studies’ history and its scholarly contributions.

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* And yes, Schaefer fits the mold. She’s given a two week journalism seminar at Hillsdale College, which is a well known conservative liberal arts college.  She also writes for publications with conservative editorial boards such as the Wall Street Journal. Being conservative neither qualifies or disqualifies you from commenting on Black Studies, but it does fit the broader pattern of conservative attacks on the discipline.

Written by fabiorojas

May 9, 2012 at 6:59 pm

Posted in academia, fabio

8 Responses

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  1. It’s good to see people debunking her crap in the comments section.



    May 9, 2012 at 9:44 pm

  2. The usfulness of the so called ‘black studies’ is nothig more than just big zero.



    May 13, 2012 at 8:12 am

  3. @Krzysiek–before you continue to extend her racist discourse, do a spell-check. Check. Check-mate. :-)



    May 14, 2012 at 5:11 pm

  4. My thoughts on this are here:

    At the end of the day trading in tripe is the charge and the Chronicle is the one really to blame for elevating this sad excuse of discourse to legitimate engagement.



    May 15, 2012 at 3:21 am

  5. Actually I should have linked to my blog post on institutional logics, racism, and media punditry:

    It’s something I’m working through, this idea of connection neo-institutionalism to critical race analysis. I’m just a grad student, though, so please take it easy? :)



    May 15, 2012 at 4:15 am

  6. My whole book is a connection between studies of race and institutionalism. Send me your stuff when it’s polished.



    May 15, 2012 at 4:16 am

  7. Indeed! Thank you for the offer. And now I go read your book. I must have asked everyone in my department and field for recommendations in this line of inquiry.



    May 15, 2012 at 4:37 am

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