Ron Radosh

How the Academic Establishment has Silenced a Major Critic of the Field of "Black Studies"

If you want to know what is wrong with academia and its devotion to political correctness, look no further than the scandal brewing over a recent action of The Chronicle of Higher Education, the important weekly newspaper of the entire higher education establishment.

The Chronicle has a regular blog by various contributors, all of whom are supposed to use their contributions to discuss their take on issues considered by the academy. One of their regular bloggers was the conservative writer Naomi Schaefer Riley, author of a book about the failures of higher education. It was because of her critical outspoken views that she was obviously chosen to be one of the paper’s opinion bloggers.

But this time, Riley supposedly overstepped the boundaries of permissible opinion. Last week, she wrote an entry opposed to the institution of black studies in the university curriculum. Here is Riley’s judgment about black studies departments:

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.

Riley went on to point out some of the absurdities appearing in the field of black studies. They include such gems as a thesis about the omission in studies of natural childbirth of black women’s experience giving birth, of the horrors of the federal government supporting single family homes for blacks in the 1970s, and a thesis about how conservative African Americans attack civil rights even though the role they have attained in society is due to the very programs they criticize. Riley wrote the following comment about the latter:

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?

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 want to do is engage in arguments that blame everything on the white man.

The result of Riley’s article — again, her opinion — was an avalanche of protest to the Chronicle’s letters section. The editors told readers that they received “thousands” of protests. That means, of course, that Riley hit a real sore spot. In a note to readers, editor Liz McMillen announced that the article “did not conform to the journalistic standards and civil tone that you expect from us,” and that Riley’s piece did not meet the “basic editorial standards for reporting and fairness in opinion articles. As a result, we have asked Ms. Riley to leave the Brainstorm blog.”

In other words, an expression of opinion — that cited chapter and verse to back up her argument — led the editors of the Chronicle to fire Riley from her post as one of a group of distinguished bloggers on academic issues.

Earlier, McMillen had asked readers to submit their views about Riley’s position. It was, she then had said, “informed opinion.” Now, having been trounced upon by the mob of politically correct leftists and the civil rights establishment, McMillen has backed down, apologized to the mob, and unceremoniously fired Riley. She has, in effect, allowed the organized mob of leftist academics to dictate to The Chronicle of Higher Education’s editors what is to be allowed on its pages, and what is to be forbidden.

If anything, her action validates Riley’s own observation that the academy, and black studies in particular, is filled with “left-wing victimization claptrap.” Those thin-skinned academics can’t stand being called out by a shrewd observer who has managed to zero in on their own failures and to expose them to readers of the newspaper. So rather than fear more of the same from Riley, they did what they always do: demand the suppression of opinion they do not agree with.  On their terms the only side that deserves to see print is the one they take, which is to them the given truth.

Evidently the editors of a once distinguished publication cannot stand up to the charge of racism coming from the civil rights establishment, and hence, they backed down and gave in without a moment’s thought.

One would think that the editors would realize that rather than bring them praise for wise judgment, their actions would embarrass them and make people no longer take anything they say seriously. But this is par for the course. In the academy these days, the only acceptable opinion is that of the political Left.

Naomi Schaefer Riley dared to tell the truth. For that sin she has been silenced. I only wish I still subscribed to the publication so I could cancel in protest. If you are among those who still do, please consider taking such action. Money talks, and the only protest the editors will notice is the kind that loses them readers. They don’t take ideas or freedom of expression seriously. We have learned that already. At least consider writing them a letter of your own expressing your feelings about how a journal that supposedly represents institutions of higher learning has failed the basic test of academic freedom — allowing different ideas to be expressed and for those considering them to reach their own decisions.

We have learned one good lesson from the firing of Riley. It is that we no longer have any reason to take anything the editors of The Chronicle of Higher Education say seriously.


In today’s Wall Street Journal, Riley herself discusses the issues in her dismissal. You can read it here.  Riley wrote the following:

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.

She has written herself the best account of the issues, and the best defense of her own blog posts at The Chronicle. Any other publication would be wise to immediately hire Riley so readers can continue to read her accounts of the follies of academia.