Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Academia opposing free speech ...

The Chronicle of Higher Education fired an editorial writer for daring to question the educational value of black studies.  Original op-ed here.  Story about it here.

We could and should argue whether this field has any value.  Some people question the value of the field of economics.  That is their right.  And, as an economist, I should be able to defend it.

When there is a debate, you can often tell who is losing.  Look for the side that will want to punish the other person for speaking or start labeling their counterpart (racist, etc.).  They usually will resort to that when the merits of their argument are weak.  It's sad, however, when academics are the ones who try to oppose free speech.

New WSJ op-ed by the original author.


  1. Naomi Schaefer Riley wasn't fired for her opinions. She was fired for complete lack of scholarly standards. She did not even read the dissertations she criticized, saying "It would never have occurred to me to read the dissertations.”

    I've been pretty thoroughly raked over the coals by Chronicle readers myself--but I would never, ever criticize a work I had not even read--and I wouldn't expect the Chronicle to publish work by someone who did, either.

    Riley also dismissed an entire field based on her opinion of 3 dissertation titles, about which she made many assumptions (because she had not bothered to read the works themselves.) If she had done due diligence and conducted even a slightly more thorough examination of Black Studies dissertation titles for the past 5 years--and read some of them--she would probably find "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," problems which she seems to think are the sum total and should therefore be the central focus of the Black Studies field. Natural childbirth experiences of Black women apparently do not fit her assumptions about black life as something only defined by serious problems.

    But I would remind readers that Laurel Thatcher Ulrich won a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize in History for her work on a colonial midwife. Apparently a number of people think that the vital aspects of life, in all their variety, are all relevant subjects for scholarship, to further our knowledge of the human experience. And maybe that's what that dissertation is about. But Riley wouldn't know either way. No matter what you think of her opinions, that's not solid scholarship or writing.

  2. I think it's pretty unreasonable to expect a journalist to read a dissertation in this case. She was criticizing the titles of the dissertations. Should she really have taken hours to read each dissertation? That seems crazy?

    I disagree with your assessment. I think we all know a writer here wouldn't have been fired if discussing the silliness of many dissertation titles in economics. (Many of which sound crazy too.)

    You state: "Riley also dismissed an entire field based on her opinion of 3 dissertation titles, about which she made many assumptions". So? That's what makes it an opinion!