May 8, 2012

Kevin Drum: "Perils of Criticizing Black Studies"

Kevin Drum blogs at Mother Jones:
The Perils of Criticizing Black Studies 
—By Kevin Drum| Tue May. 8, 2012 3:07 PM PDT 
A week ago at the Chronicle of Higher Education's Brainstom blog, Naomi Schaefer Riley wrote a post titled "The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations." As it happens, though, Riley didn't read any of the dissertations she mocked. She just read the titles and unilaterally declared them useless. "What a collection of left-wing victimization claptrap," she grumbled, "The best that can be said of these topics is that they’re so irrelevant no one will ever look at them." 
A firestorm ensued, and yesterday the Chronicle fired Riley.

It was a snarky blog post. Presumably, Naomi Schaefer Riley figured that being married to a black guy, Jason Riley of the WSJ op-ed page, was protection against the R-word. Think again ...

Kevin could have more economically phrased his title: "The Perils of Criticizing Blacks."

52 comments:

Anonymous said...

Or course, they're maintaining that the firing was all about scholarly standards, not about protecting "victims" from criticism. A quick look at the kind of posts the Chronicle blog usually runs gives the lie to this - there are plenty of "I'm an academic, so you should listen to my opinion about this topic completely unrelated to my area of expertise" pieces.

Anonymous said...

They've got a similar problem down at UNC-CH, which once fancied itself to be something of a "Harvard of the South":

UNC football, basketball players made up large percentage of suspect classes
By Dan Kane
Sat, May 05, 2012
newsobserver.com

An internal investigation into UNC-Chapel Hill's Department of African and Afro-American Studies has found evidence of academic fraud involving more than 50 classes that range from no-show professors to unauthorized grade changes for students.

One of the no-show classes is the Swahili course taken by former football player Michael McAdoo that prompted NCAA findings of impermissible tutoring, and drew more controversy when the final paper he submitted was found to have been heavily plagiarized.

The investigation found many of the suspect classes were taught in the summer by former department chairman Julius Nyang'oro, who resigned from that post in September. The university now says Nyang'oro, 57, who was the department's first-ever chairman, is retiring July 1.

"Professor Nyang'oro offered to retire, and we agreed that was in the best interest of the department, the college and the university," said Nancy Davis, associate vice chancellor for university relations...

jody said...

but bashing english or psychology is de rigueur, especially for engineering majors. she should have stuck to the tried and true.

in other news, those evil oil speculators are up to their old tricks, driving the price of oil down, with no regard for how many people they hurt as they force the cost of that sweet crude to fall.

we really need to stop these guys from taking less profit by allowing them to continue reduce the price of gasoline.

LOL. back in the real world, the price of oil is simply due to market conditions, as it always is. half of europe is in recession, and now socialists have taken control of france. the EU will need less oil in the next couple months, the expected world demand for oil has therefore fallen a few percent, and the price of WTI and brent went down a few bucks. amazing, astonishing, incredible stuff.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yes, she should have read more of the dissertations. But really, she is being busted for a technicality here. Even her critics know that she got the content of those writings correct, they just don't like that she criticised the content.

People write titles and abstracts for a reason - to inform the reader what the subject matter is going to be. Everyone knows there were not any about-faces or surprises in those dissertations. If there were, then they would deserve criticism for tagging themselves badly,

Rip Van Vanilla Ice said...

Hmm, a bit early in the year to be having our umpteenth racial hysteria festival OH YEAH THE ELECTION THING

Anonymous said...

But shouldn't this reporter have actually read some dissertations before slamming them? Isn't that Journalism 101?

Didn't she deserve to be fired, regardless of the nature of the target she was criticizing?

Peter said...

How could we overlook the nonwhite experience in “natural birth literature,” whatever the heck that is?

"I don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' babies."

Anonymous said...

The Derb needed to add a 16th point to "The Talk: Nonblack Version":

Unless you have the rhinoceros thick hide of a Derb or a Steve Sailer, think very carefully before you say or email or print ANYTHING even slightly HBD-aware to anyone other than absolutely trusted friends and family.

The fact of the matter is that white liberals almost to a man actually follow the "rules" outlined in Derb's talk. The guilt that this causes in them means that they are just itching to "Zimmerman" someone, whether in person or by proxy. It seems to act as a kind of release valve for their white guilt or something. Naomi Schaeffer Riley is just the latest victim of this new Spanish Inquisition.

I was briefly personally acquainted with Naomi about 10 years ago and I remember her as a person of great forcefulness and integrity. Now liberals are going to tell her two half-black kids that their own mother is racist against them. So, as I said, unless you have made a conscious decision to just tell the truth and accept all the consequences like Steve and the Derb, use extreme caution to avoid making yourself the target of one of these witch hunts.

life of the mind said...

"figured that being married to a black guy, Jason Riley of the WSJ op-ed page"--bwahaha, there's probably an entire dissertation theme right there. "'She Stoops to Conquer': Why I'm Pissed Off At White Women Who Marry Black Men With High-Paying Jobs"

Truth said...

"Yes, she should have read more of the dissertations."

Well, as a general rule, it does help to be familiar with what you criticize.

jody said...

as for the "Shouldn't she have read a few?" defense, that's never required when bashing other fields. don't ever accuse an arrogant engineer or computer programmer of knowing the slightest bit about the fields they gleefully bash.

they'll swear up and down it's all 100% useless, then turn around and get into a VERY heated fanboy argument about how the dark knight was genius but indiana jones and the kingdom of the crystal skull sucked.

not realizing all the while the irony of caring so much about movies, which are based on screenplays, which must be written...by writers. who are often english or film majors. let alone all the other material which english majors write.

Middle aged engineer pounding on his keyboard on some internet board: "LOL at useless majors. These people are so dumb. Hey by the way, my kids loved reading The Hunger Games, and we're ready for the movie!"

another poster: "Suzanne Collins was a fine arts student with a double major in drama and communications."

Middle aged engineer: "Useless liberal arts departments should be eliminated from our colleges."

these are the guys who bash people for learning guitar, starting a band, and working a minimum wage job part time to finance their career, meanwhile for 1 or 2 hours a day while studying for their midterms and finals in differential equations and linear algebra, they are listening to the very music they bashed those people for producing.

stupid people, learning how to make music! after these tests are over i can't wait to get drunk and party out, while listening to hours of music blasting loudly.

Anonymous said...

Blacks don't like any criticism. They are an easily offended race. Projectionism?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I am so pleased with the comment delay, so I could get my refutation in before anonymous and Truth even got to make their arguments.

Jody - yes, because so many liberal arts majors go on to bring screenplays to the screen, eh? A 0.1% success rate justifies it all.

I have some mild appreciation for the ironies you note. But I was a theater - excuse me, Theatre - major in the 1970's after starting in math. It was a terrible choice, and a pretty useless concentration. I drank the Kool-Aid and it cost me. Don't encourage others to do the same, just so you can feel good about yourself.

peterike said...

Middle aged engineer pounding on his keyboard on some internet board: "LOL at useless majors. These people are so dumb. Hey by the way, my kids loved reading The Hunger Games, and we're ready for the movie!"

The Hunger Games (junk that it is) is work written for profit by an author taking the risk that their work might not be published or sell well. It's not the useless babbling of some sinecured affirmative action academic handed their government-paid job because they enabled the university to tick off a diversity checkbox.

And "The Hunger Games" sells millions. If Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor can sell millions of copies of “Race for Profit: Black Housing and the Urban Crisis of the 1970s," then good for her.

Anonymous said...

From the Times wedding announcement, it's pretty clear that Naomi Schaeffer Riley and her husband are not typical lefty academics. At the time of the wedding, Schaeffer Riley worked at a conservative think tank, and her (black) husband was a senior writer for the Wall St Journal editorial page. I suspect that Chronicle had been looking for an excuse to fire her since she was hired.

Anonymous said...

Asst. Village Idiot, the best is when the drama-workshop crowd argues they need more $$$ subsidy because they're the thin periwinkle line between capital-C civilization & barbarism. Think of how much greater Homer would have been with an MFA. Though it can be stipulated that Van Gogh might have painted more if someone had tossed him a buck.

Anonymous said...

I'm in the middle of reading Naomi Schaefer Riley's new book "The Faculty Lounges" on the terrible state of higher education.

This incident will conveniently distract people from her public criticisms of the academic establishment. I heard her interviewed on the radio a couple of weeks ago, which prompted me to go out and get the book.

Was said...

I'm thinking maybe she was trying to get fired. Her big mistake was not just going after black studies, leading with a black studies that mirrors a SWPL meme (that i support) and goes on to criticize two legitimate points of interest.

SWPL
Black = good
natural birth = good
Black + natural birth = double good
Attack black natural birth?

Legit point of interest
"race for profit" Blacks and housing crises
The article's conclusions may be wrong, but this seems like a great area for study

Legit point of interest
"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.’” don't we istevers want to know more about this topic?

Gringo said...

Three will be another storm coming in the drive to bring down the cost of a college education.

A big reason for the increase in the cost of a college education compared to what it was a generation or two ago is the greater expansion of administrative staff relative to student enrollment.

A lot of the increase in administrative staff has come in the "diversity" department. You can bet your bottom dollar the race card will be played when attempts are made to reduce administrative staff.

There is an interesting tale about a former school principal and the doctoral dissertation topic she chose, but one should not tell tales out of school.

Anonymous said...

Someone please find some dissertations and post them online.

K-Marx said...

In 2002 there was a politically active woman on the SUNY Board of Regents (or trustees, I'm not sure about the technical distinction but she didn't hold elected office) named Candace de Russy who said essentially the same thing. She was ousted after a couple weeks of 100% USDA Prime Controversy and I think she was finished in academia, although it did subsequently enhance her standing with Republicans.

Anonymous said...

Her husband wrote a book, too, and here he is talking about it:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DDK9Ic2qx3I

Anonymous said...

The first paragraph in Riley's post: "You’ll have to forgive the lateness but I just got around to reading The Chronicle’s recent piece on the young guns of black studies. 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."

So, Riley from the very outset did not present herself as having read the full dissertations. She was honest from the beginning.

On the other hand, for a professional Mrs. Riley's writing is attrocious, and herhusband is a dick.

The PC regime thuggery is getting particularly appalling of late. They're about to overstep their bounds.

Reg C├Žsar said...

This whole issue will be moot when hubby Jason "Let 'Em In" Riley gets his way-- and whites are 25% of the population, blacks 4%, and Jews 0.5%.

Will blacks have the same influence Jews had when they were at a similar position in, oh, 1955?

Anonymous said...

Why haven't people figured out that this is a contentious issue yet? its been, what 60 years, and yet bodies are still piling up against the walls. Ah well, eventually there will be a big enough corpse ramp.

Anonymous said...

"Presumably, Naomi Schaefer Riley figured that being married to a black guy, Jason Riley of the WSJ op-ed page, was protection against the R-word. Think again ..."

That's pretty funny, in a horrible, predictable way. It's not about a normal, human definition of racism, it's all about ideology and power (and guilt and projection).

I'm currently dating a black woman, yet my hbd opinions would still be beyond the pale for most right-thinking people.

Come to think of it, the fact that John Derbyshire is married to a Chinese woman didn't prevent any liberals from screaming "racist" at him.

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:27, UNC isn't the Southern school denoting itself as such, it's Duke.

I saw a guy once at my gym with a t-shirt claiming "Duke: the Harvard of the South". I couldn't resist pointing out to him that no one at Harvard had a shirt saying "Harvard: the Duke of the North".

media critic said...

I saw that both Ye Olde Chron and WSJ www site printed the vaunted famous epithet sans hyphens this time, I guess because it was here being wielded by young black meritocrats (and their faculty patrons by extension). Another News Corp. outlet, the NY Post, had just had a silly column by Phil Mushnick about Jay Z naming the Brooklyn Nets differently, and hyphens were very requisite in that style scenario. Coincidentally I just heard Louis CK discuss (not so perceptively) a Mark Twain fan promoting his bowdlerized edition of Huck Finn (about "Slave Jim" because otherwise teachers refuse to assign the book). We have a real 21st century talisman on our hands here.

Let's! said...

I thought Riley's post was counterproductive. There are many easy targets in ethnic "scholarship" but criticizing study of black childbirth when black women obviously had to rely more on informal networks and folk wisdom for much of our history is lazy and airheaded.

If women are going to sally forth with, like, totally ditzy attacks, they need to adopt the Sarah Silverman Evil Innocent pose that Steve Sailer identified.

NOTA said...

jody:

It's possible to believe both that you ought not to criticize stuff you didn't bother reading, and that black studies is probably not a field brimming with useful insights waiting to be plucked and applied. (To my mind, a Black Studies department at a university is a kind of trap, offering smart but inexperienced black students an opportunity to get a degree that gives them very little help in getting a job or building a decent life for themselves. For God's sake, kid, get a business or nursing or education degree or something, so you can actually have a job when you graduate.).

NOTA said...

petrike:

Also, it's actually okay that books written to appeal to ten year olds are not always gripping reads for adults. My oldest child loved those books, as well as the Harry Potter books, that set of kids books based on Greek and Roman mythology, and all kinds of other stuff. A smart, curious kid will read tons of stuff for fun, mostly crap, to his benefit since he becomes a fluent fast reader with a big vocabulary without even noticing it is happening.

Anonymous said...

I'm currently dating a black woman, yet my hbd opinions would still be beyond the pale for most right-thinking people.

And, conversely, most right-thinking people would never date a black woman, although they'd sooner cut their tongues out than admit that.

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:27, UNC isn't the Southern school denoting itself as such, it's Duke.

Duke as a serious academic institution is a relatively recent phenomenon - it was only after the Reagan tax cuts in the 1980s that the private schools [via their alumni endowments] suddenly rose up and soared past the public schools - before that, Duke was kinduva joke academically.

UNC, on the other hand, was classically the southern academic powerhouse - it was a legitimate USN&WR Top 10 institution until at least the mid- to late-1980s.

And UNC was huge in the traditional humanities [English, Latin & Greek, History, Drama, etc] - in the middle of the last century, UNC moved all sorts of famous humanities graduates into the popular culture - guys like Vermont Royster, David Brinkley, Charles Kuralt, Shelby Foote, Walker Percy, and Andy Griffith all came out of UNC - heck, even ol' Chris Matthews passed through Chapel Hill in the 1970s.

But, like I said above, once the Reagan tax cuts kicked in, the private schools shifted into overdrive, and the great old public universities, like UNC, Berkeley, Madison, and Ann Arbor simply fell by the wayside.

And within the confines of local politics, it hasn't helped matters that North Carolina has had an uninterrupted 20-year string of DEM governors who have looted & spent away every single trust fund the state ever had [and who invited in a staggering tidal wave of illegal aliens from Central America].


I saw a guy once at my gym with a t-shirt claiming "Duke: the Harvard of the South". I couldn't resist pointing out to him that no one at Harvard had a shirt saying "Harvard: the Duke of the North".

I think that Harvard's attempt to be the Duke of the North ended when Linsanity faded into Linscurity.

Which kinda gets back to the original point way up above about UNC's problems trying to maintain competitive programs in football and basketball.

During the height of its fame as an academic powerhouse, UNC could win at basketball with all-white teams [NCAA champions in 1957, with a Jewish player-of-the-year] and almost all-white teams [Final Four trips in 1967, 1968, and 1969, with only one negro -er- African American ].

But, of course, to be competitive nowadays, you need your basketball players ace-ing their no-show Swahili courses [as led by a charlatan chairman of the Afro-Studies Department] in order to keep up those minimum Grade Point Averages for NCAA eligibility.

Gringo said...

jody:
Middle aged engineer: "Useless liberal arts departments should be eliminated from our colleges."

Instead of cranking out useless articles that nobody reads, such as "Critical race theory applied to dead white european authors," English professors should teach undergraduates literature and composition.

By literature, I don't mean comic books or what purple-eyed green skinned lesbians have written. I mean the great literature of the world.

All professionals need to write clearly and concisely. If college graduates cannot do so, English departments have failed.

Useless "...Studies" departments should be eliminated from our colleges.


but bashing english or psychology is de rigueur, especially for engineering majors. she should have stuck to the tried and true.

In my undergraduate days I took an Abnormal Psych class after having worked a year as an aide in a psych hospital. The course was USELESS. As an aide, I needed to make quick judgments about the dynamics of the situation, and respond accordingly. The Abnormal Psych course concentrated on classification. Useless.

Do engineering students have scorn for humanities, "social science," or education students because such students get better grades for much less work than engineering students? You do the math. I bet even an English or Psych major can figure it out.


From an engineer.

Svigor said...

Well, as a general rule, it does help to be familiar with what you criticize

I have a 1,000 page dissertation on cars that run on water that I want you to read, but I don't know where to send it. Help a brutha out?

Then there's my 2,000 page dissertation on White Supremacy...

Anonymous said...

"a collection of left-wing victimization claptrap"

considering that whiteness studies are the same, so what's so racist?

"A smart, curious kid will read tons of stuff for fun, mostly crap, to his benefit since he becomes a fluent fast reader with a big vocabulary without even noticing it is happening. "

He would also pick up some political leanings without him noticing that it is happening.

eah said...

Money could no doubt be saved by merging Black Studies with Criminal Justice. For example, only one department secretary. I'm thinking double major here as well.

Leo Ladenson said...

I thought Riley's post was counterproductive. There are many easy targets in ethnic "scholarship" but criticizing study of black childbirth when black women obviously had to rely more on informal networks and folk wisdom for much of our history is lazy and airheaded.


I think this is a good point. I can see how a history dissertation on this subject might be worth having on the shelf of a university's library.

But I think the points Schaefer Riley was making were: (1) was this topic chosen out of intellectual curiosity or out of some form of grievance, and (2) do we need "black studies" programs to produce such dissertations?

Matthew said...

"Duke as a serious academic institution is a relatively recent phenomenon - it was only after the Reagan tax cuts in the 1980s that the private schools [via their alumni endowments] suddenly rose up and soared past the public schools..."

There is a lengthy list of impressive Duke alumni available. It goes back (necessarily, given a certain time lag) well before the Reagan tax cuts. Not as impressive as a list of Harvard grads, but not the kind to suggest academic unseriousness. Cisco CEO John Chambers, Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack, and billionaire Gerard Louis-dreyfus (Julia Louis-Dreyfus's father) all attended along with many, many others, all well before the Reagan tax cuts.

Maya said...

"In my undergraduate days I took an Abnormal Psych class after having worked a year as an aide in a psych hospital. The course was USELESS. As an aide, I needed to make quick judgments about the dynamics of the situation, and respond accordingly. The Abnormal Psych course concentrated on classification. Useless."

I took a computer engineering course once, and I still can neither build a computer nor can I fix all the problems that arise with the one I bought at Best Buy. I guess this means that either engineering and computer science classes are USELESS... or, maybe, one needs more knowledge and skill than can be taught in one course, to be effective in any field.

From a humanities/social sciences double major.

Maya said...

"And, conversely, most right-thinking people would never date a black woman, although they'd sooner cut their tongues out than admit that."

Now, now. Most normal people wouldn't date a loud, overweight single mother with fake hair and a chip on her shoulders. However, not all black women are created equal. One of my dearest friends is a very cute, very happy and positive and well educated Hispanic black girl. She is getting married to a young, handsome, white architect who was actually able to find work in his field. (I saw him first, but who can compete with that friend of mine?:) ) Generalizations apply to general groups, not to individuals.

Anonymous said...

Is Ms Schaefer Riley Jewish?

Truth said...

"do we need "black studies" programs to produce such dissertations?"

No, I heard one of the PHD Theoretical Math candidates brought it up to his dissertation committee, but they wouldn't let him do it because of racism.

Truth said...

"I have a 1,000 page dissertation on cars that run on water that I want you to read, but I don't know where to send it. Help a brutha out?"

Well, you did refrain from doing the musty old "water powered car" thing for four or five years now; that's got to be worth something.

Svigor said...

Hey, as far as I can remember, I've only ribbed you about it twice, including this thread. But you can't expect to live that one down, ever.

In any event, the water powered car thing was only in service of the point, which I'll assume you got.

Maya said...

"No, I heard one of the PHD Theoretical Math candidates brought it up to his dissertation committee, but they wouldn't let him do it because of racism."

Truth, my beef with the "studies" is that they are offered to undergrads as actual majors. Black experience, Hispanic experience, women's experience, ect. only make sense as narrow specializations within broader fields and can only be taken seriously if studied by people who had already spent a significant amount of time learning the basics and general information which would put the narrow specialization into context. I have no problem with a PhD candidate researching racism in 18th century literature or folk wisdom about childbearing among the African Americans as long as they have previous degrees in literature, anthropology, sociology or whatever it is that his research relates to to back up his understanding of what it is he is currently studying. A BA in Black Studies or Women's Studies is not only completely useless, but it also causes students to obsess over the issues, experiences and achievements of only one narrow group. Such education closes students' minds instead of opening them.

NOTA said...

Maya:

I wonder if there is any data on the effects of ethnic/group studies majors on employability. Alice has a degree in Black Studies, Carol has a degree in Sociology. All else equal, who do you suppose gets more interview calls?

Maya said...

NOTA,

If we are talking about aspiring business analysts and insurance agents with plans to apply to an MBA program in a few years, I guess any liberal arts degree is as good as any other. In the 90s hiring market, a degree was necessary to prove that one can read, reason and communicate at a college level. It didn't matter if you were trained to read closely, come up with arguments and support them by studying theater or international economics. Similarly, in our current hiring market, any degree that doesn't come with specific job training, is, probably, equally useless.

However, if one starts school with hopes of entering academia, he should start with receiving a broad, comprehensive education in his area and become familiar with the field as a whole before specializing. Otherwise, his expertise could not be taken seriously because someone who fails to understand the subject in context fails to understand the subject. Black Studies isn't a field. It force feeds certain facts and views about the economic, social and historic experiences of a group to students who don't understand or know much about economics, sociology or history. It presents a group's achievements in science, literature and the arts to students who don't understand or know much about science, literature or art. The only way one could do meaningful research on economic issues facing African Americans at any given time is if one studies economics first. There is nothing wrong with writing a dissertation on some obscure topic that has to do with a certain ethnic group. Dissertations are meant to deal with narrow obscure topics. But undergraduate education isn't meant to tie a person to one single topic, with one single view to the exclusion of everything else. Plus, studying experiences of only one group makes one keenly aware of all the hardships and achievements of that group while missing the hardships and achievements of all other groups which could give the subject group context and portray it more accurately. This type of patchy education could make one more, not less ignorant.

Anonymous said...

"And, conversely, most right-thinking people would never date a black woman, although they'd sooner cut their tongues out than admit that."

Generalizations apply to general groups, not to individuals.


Hence "most" and not "all" as the qualifier. How many PC SWPL upper-middle-class white men do you know who are dating or married to a black woman? All? Most? A few? One? I rest my case.

Mr. Anon said...

"Truth said...

Well, you did refrain from doing the musty old "water powered car" thing for four or five years now; that's got to be worth something."

It will only become musty after you admit you were stupid for saying it. Do you still believe in water-fueled cars?

If so, then you are still stupid.

Truth said...

I never said that I believed in water-fueled cars, all i did was to post a link.

I never said that George Zimmerman was guilty of murder, either, I just posted a series of links from other people who did.

Mr. Anon said...

"Truth said...

I never said that I believed in water-fueled cars, all i did was to post a link."

A disingenuous obfuscation. You clearly implied that you believed there were such things. What did you intend to mean by posting a link? "Here....here's a link to something I think is wrong."

Funny, for a J-school grad, you lie more like a lawyer than like a journalist.