Working for a show hosted by a college professor, we might be unusually attuned to the times when academia makes the news. Just as with stories in all corners of the news, those academic stories doesn't always make for good television. But when we read an April 30 post written and published by Naomi Schaefer Riley in the Chronicle of Higher Education, I was relieved as the editor of this space to learn that Melissa would be expanding a planned "Office Hours" column intended for this blog into a perfectly-named "Footnote" segment concluding Sunday's show. (You can find that at that bottom of this post; I recommend watching it, then picking up this post from here.)
That's because I couldn't wait to hear how Melissa would respond to Schaefer Riley, a conservative scholar at the Institute for American Values. Responding to an earlier Chronicle piece about up-and-coming Black Studies Ph. D. students, Schaefer Riley wrote a post entitled, "The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations" -- wherein she gave Cliffs Notes-worthy summaries of three dissertations from Northwestern students which she hadn't read, and used those to declare the following:
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....
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.
What's really compelling about her snarky, cavalier post -- in a can't-avert-your-eyes-from-a-car-crash sort of way -- is that Schaefer Riley wholly dismisses any claims to systemic racism or criticism of conservative Black academics raised (per her description) by the three doctoral candidates who she put on blast in the post. Oh, and the fact that her post is called "The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations," and she hadn't read any of them.
She later responded to her critics by writing dismissively that “there are not enough hours in the day or money in the world to get me to read a dissertation on historical black midwifery." (The firm response from the students she ridiculed can be found here.)
Today, the Chronicle, after fumbling their earlier public response to the controversial post, dismissed Schaefer Riley as a writer for their blog:
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.
The Chronicle promised to review its editorial policies, which, it seems, involves allowing writers to publish posts without their having been reviewed by editors. Their last statement in their "Note to Readers" really hit home for me:
One theme many of you have sounded is that you felt betrayed by what we published; that you welcome healthy informed debate, but that in this case, we did not live up to the expectations of the community of readers we serve.
You told us we can do better, and we agree.
Outlets like Commentary and the Wall Street Journal (where Schaefer Riley was once employed) can try to take her dismissal and shape it a conversation about censorship in liberal academia -- but that is a self-serving, and most importantly, incorrect judgment. Her post-firing complaints in an Poynter interview speak to that as well, and that goes to the heart of conservative self-victimization and willful misunderstanding of the First Amendment. Schaefer Riley's right to free speech does not guarantee or secure her employment with a publication.
(Still, I fully expect her to be making guest appearances on conservative media outlets in short order, gesturing to her new academic stigmata, all the while alleging that she was nailed to the cross of political correctness. I value her freedom to do just that.)
And all that considered, let's not forget that it was Schaefer Riley who used ridicule in an attempt to not just silence three doctoral students making arguments which she didn't like, but to go so far as to casually propose the elimination of their entire academic discipline to address her grievances.
As noted earlier, Melissa's "Footnote" is below.
Melissa Harris-Perry challenges The Chronicle of Higher Education's Naomi Schaefer Riley for her rant against college and university-level African-American studies programs.