First, there’s a post from the editors of the Chronicle that talks about wanting to generate debate, show all sides, participate in important arguments, etc. Well, look– sure, yeah. I want debate and controversy about the university and its mission too. And I don’t want the post cast down the memory hole. I want vigorous, responsible debate where people muster evidence to advance credible arguments that can be effectively evaluated. Schaefer Riley’s conclusions offend me, it’s true. But what should offend the editors of the Chronicle is that a post was published under their masthead which was completely deficient as an argument. Schaefer Riley advocated a huge change– eliminating an entire department– based on synopses of three (3!) in-progress dissertations, and did so without mounting any argument that I can actually detect. That is a failing of methodology and of argument, not a disagreement about conclusions. Seeking diversity of opinion does not mean that you should continue to publish irresponsible and deliberately provoking content. Does the Chronicle have editorial standards, or not?
There’s also a post from the faculty of the Black Studies department in question, which comes to the defense of their students and criticizes the publication.
Then there’s Schaefer Riley’s response, which has to be seen to be believed.
The comments regarding my post seem to boil down to the following:
I am picking on people because they are black (and I am a racist).
I am picking on people even though I don’t have a Ph.D.
I am picking on people who are too young and inexperienced to defend themselves.
I am picking on people even though I haven’t read their entire dissertations.
Personally, I’m not picking on you because your targets are black and you’re a racist. I’m picking on you because you produced a pathetic, mindlessly button-pushing post that attacked a field that exists because racism exists. I don’t care that you don’t have a Ph.D. I care that you don’t have an argument, evidence, or any demonstrable grasp of how to make responsible claims. The point is not that the grad students aren’t capable of defending themselves. The point is that dissertations are supposed to be exploratory, you’re supposed to take risks, you’re expected to fail in some ways (and learn from that failure), and they aren’t even finished yet. Finally, saying you haven’t read their entire dissertations is a funny way to put it. You haven’t read anything from their dissertations, not even an abstract. You only bothered to read synopses published for a magazine article.
Let me take the first two criticisms first. My qualifications to post on this blog consist of the fact that I have been a journalist writing about higher education for close to 15 years now. My work has been published in every major newspaper in the country and I have written two books on the subject as well. The editors at those papers and those publishers and at The Chronicle have all been aware that I hold no advanced degree.
Every major paper! Wow! Maybe want to qualify that a bit? When you say hyperbolic stuff like that, it doesn’t make me take you more seriously. Whether you have an advanced degree, many publications, or a Commander Keen decoder ring is irrelevant to me. What’s relevant is the quality of your post.
Black studies is now an academic discipline at most universities, which means I get to comment on that too. If the dissertations in question were written by white people, I’d call them irrelevant and partisan as well. Moreover, I have called other disciplines (having nothing to do with race) irrelevant and partisan.
Of course you get to comment on Black Studies. Doing so by looking at four sentence synopses of three dissertations is like judging all of television by reading TV Guide‘s blurbs on three episodes of Cash Cab. And maybe you do and would judge other disciplines and white scholars, I don’t know. What I do know is that there is a long and ugly history of people attacking black academics and fields that consider the black and African experience as lacking rigor, filled with affirmative action cases, and a sop to political correctness. Black scholars and scholars of other races who work in fields related to African and black issues have to deal with an assumption of lower standards and less value all the time. When you mirror that bigoted thinking, you don’t get out of blame just because you’ve also criticized white scholars in the past.
I find the idea that there is something particularly heinous in criticizing graduate students or dissertations to be laughable at best. Just because they are still called students doesn’t mean they’re not grown-ups. When someone in their 30s (me) criticizes the dissertation topic of someone in their 20s, that’s “bullying“? Boy, life as a graduate student in a trendy discipline at a prestigious university sure is tough. Unless The Chronicle features you in a piece, being a graduate student is just like being “invisible” (Ralph Ellison, please call your office). A word to the wise: If you’re trying to convince the wider world that black people in America are oppressed, I’d skip using the experience of black graduate students as an example.
That’s true: if you’re trying to convince the wider world that black people in America are oppressed, talking about grad school is a bad idea. Instead, you might consider pointing out that black people make less money, have higher unemployment, less education, worse job security, higher rates of heart disease, lower life expectancy, higher odds of being the victim of a crime, higher odds of being abused or killed by the police, far higher odds of being imprisoned, far higher odds of being sentenced to death, and in the university specifically, higher dropout rates, longer time to graduate, and worse chances of being employed after graduation. Just for a start.
Finally, since this is a blog about academia and not journalism, I’ll forgive the commenters for not understanding that it is not my job to read entire dissertations before I write a 500-word piece about them.
Or any of the dissertations. Or anything by anyone about anything. To support your advocacy of eliminating an entire discipline. In a post where the headline told other people to read dissertations.
I read some academic publications (as they relate to other research I do), but there are not enough hours in the day or money in the world to get me to read a dissertation on historical black midwifery
Haha! Those blacks with their midwifery! Lord knows, no one could ever care or have interest in the history of black women’s reproductive issues. I can conceive of no possible way in which such historical information could have relevance to current controversies about reproductive rights, women’s health, and racial imbalances in access and quality of healthcare.
In fact, I’d venture to say that fewer than 20 people in the whole world will read it. And the same holds true for the others that are mentioned in the piece.
You mean writing specifically intended to only be read by a small number of people which isn’t mass produced or widely disseminated or intended for a mass audience doesn’t always have a lot of readers? That’s the kind of incisive commentary that can only come from someone with 15 years of journalism experience who has been published in literally every major newspaper.
Such is the state of academic research these days. The disciplines multiply. The publication topics become more and more irrelevant and partisan. No one reads them. And the people whom we expect to offer undergraduates a broad liberal-arts education (in return for billions of dollars from parents and taxpayers) never get trained to do so. Instead the ivory tower pushes them further and further into obscurity.
A conservative classic, here. Giving a shit about black people and their problems: partisan. Dismissing that interest with specious arguments and then wondering why people get so worked up about it: not partisan. Also, something something ivory tower.
Finally, the most important post of the day, which is from the three criticized grad students themselves. You should read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:
As black people living in the United States we do not need conspiracy theories or white bogie men to explain the disparities that separate and distinguish the life chances of white people compared to those of African Americans, even with a black president sitting in the White House. We understand that these conditions are driven and shaped by racism and real white men who exercise power and influence in the economic, social and political institutions that govern this nation. Before the dirt has fully come to rest on the grave of Trayvon Martin, black men and women, in the academy or outside of it, have never needed Harvard educated white women to lecture us about the conditions in the communities we live in—and we certainly do not need it now.
Our work is not about victimization; it is about liberation. Liberating the history, culture and politics of our people from the contortions and distortions of a white supremacist framework that has historically denied our agency and subjectivity as active participants in the making of the world we live in.