Black Studies and 'Intellectual Cowardice'

Naomi Schaefer-Riley wrote a piece for the Chronicle of Higher Education calling for the abolition of black studies. This prompted a lengthy back and forth which culminated in Schaefer-Riley being fired. 


My old label-mate Andrew Sullivan responds:

The post prompted a torrent of left-wing outrage and, ultimately, Riley's sacking - which brought out the right's counter-outrage. This time, it seems clear to me that the right is right. Riley's commentary is well within the bounds of provocative opinion writing. Firing her was an act of cowardice and an assault on intellectual freedom.
I had hoped to avoid writing about this because I think Schaefer-Riley was basically the initiator of a High Tech Trolling. But I took to twitter a bit last night, because, like Andrew I was appalled that she'd been fired. I just don't believe that writing something stupid about race should be fire-able.

I do, however, think that proudly defending one's ignorance in a publication dedicated to higher education, should always be fireable. And as was pointed out to me this was exactly what Schaefer-Riley did. In her first essay she wrote:

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.
In her follow-up Schaefer-Riley then said:

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. 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. 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.
Calling for the abolition of a department based on the seeming esoteric nature of its dissertations strikes me as silly. I'm willing to bet I could make the same case against English and Anthropology departments around the country. But calling for the abolition of those departments based on the dissertations, and then bragging that you haven't read any of them is journalistic malpractice. 

Schaefer-Riley isn't merely saying she's ignorant of Black Studies (that would be bad.) She is saying she is ignorant of the very evidence she used to condemn black studies And amazingly she says this as though it were somehow evidence in her favor!

Thus buying Andrew's defense of Schaefer-Riley doesn't simply mean buying the right to criticize black studies. We're all in agreement there. It means buying the right to criticize black studies without doing any substantive research into the field. It means buying the right to speak out of ignorance. 

Put aside Black Studies--Why should anyone like that be covering academics and the work of collegiate scholars? If I wrote that Israel should bomb Iran, but confessed to only reading the headlines in the Times, would you take me seriously? Would you take my publisher seriously?

How is this even an issue? Why would anyone defend the right to be stupid? I'm serious here. This looks really open and shut to me.  
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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