The Firing of Naomi Schaefer Riley: A Disgraceful Witch-Hunt

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A one-two punch of editorial cowardice and progressive intolerance has descended upon the Chronicle of Higher Education. Blogger Naomi Schaefer Riley has been fired by that magazine for a short column in which she dared to criticize another Chronicle piece about black-studies graduates and their Ph.D. dissertations. “What a collection of left-wing victimization claptrap,” Riley writes. “The best that can be said of these topics is that they’re so irrelevant no one will ever look at them.” Riley may have a point about the dissertations themselves, but the subsequent firestorm of criticism aimed in her direction was apparently too much for Chronicle editor Liz McMillen who fired Riley–after first defending her.

There is no question Ms. McMillen capitulated to the mob. In an editor’s note published May 3rd, McMillen did exactly what editors are supposed to do. “Many of you have asked The Chronicle to take down Naomi Schaefer Riley’s recent posting, ‘The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations,'” McMillen wrote. “I urge readers instead to view this posting as an opportunity–to debate Riley’s views, challenge her, set things straight as you see fit. Take a moment to read The Chronicle’s front-page story about the future of black studies, written by Chronicle reporter Stacey Patton and weigh in. Please join the debate,” she added.

McMillen’s courage was exhausted after a grand total of four days. On May 7th, she surrendered: “When we published Naomi Schaefer Riley’s blog posting on Brainstorm last week…several thousand of you spoke out in outrage and disappointment that The Chronicle had published an article that did not conform to the journalistic standards and civil tone that you expect from us…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.”

McMillen’s fallback excuse for her original defense of Riley? “Since Brainstorm was created five years ago, we have sought out bloggers representing a range of intellectual and political views, and we have allowed them broad freedom in topics and approach,” McMillen wrote. “As part of that freedom, Brainstorm writers were able to post independently; Ms. Riley’s post was not reviewed until after it was posted.”

Make that after it was posted and defended by Ms. McMillen. She then gets to the gist of why it became necessary to let Riley go. “I sincerely apologize for the distress these incidents have caused our readers and appreciate that so many of you have made your sentiments known to us.” Thus, reader distress becomes the benchmark by which the failure to meet “basic editorial standards” is realized.

What so upset the delicate flowers of academia? Riley singled out three dissertations. First, “So I Could Be Easeful’: Black Women’s Authoritative Knowledge on Childbirth,” written by Ruth Hayes. In her column, Riley was sarcastic. “How could we overlook the nonwhite experience in ‘natural birth literature,’ whatever the heck that is? It’s scandalous and clearly a sign that racism is alive and well in America, not to mention academia.” Riley then takes on Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, author of “Race for Profit: Black Housing and the Urban Crisis of the 1970s.” The sarcasm is evident here as well. “Ms. Taylor believes there was apparently some kind of conspiracy in the federal government’s promotion of single family homes in black neighborhoods after the unrest of the 1960s,” Riley writes. “Single family homes! The audacity!” When Taylor makes the argument that the subprime lending crisis “highlighted the profitability of racism in the housing market,” Riley counters. “Those millions of white people who went into foreclosure were just collateral damage, I guess,” she writes.

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  • Chezwick

    Good stuff Arnold. Cleaning up the cesspool of what passes as "higher education" is going to be more challenging than the toxic waste-dump clean-up efforts of the late 80s and 90s.

  • Anamah

    There intelligence is not allowed.

  • Rod McGregor

    Excellent stuff! Pin a pc "black" label on anything and you get to dumb it down and be able to use your "Gold" racist card to have any criticism suppressed. Seems like "free speech" is the right to shout "Shuddup!" and not much about an exchange of ideas or opinions. I shudder everytime I see the word "Black" appended to anything as it immediately flags something I know is going to beat me up for being a non-black. (See how I cunningly avoided using the word "White"? I weep.

  • Elmo Lewis

    Poor conservatives, always victims of mobs of lefty black women. Give me a break! Riley is a savvy young conservative who will make hay of her "victimization" for years as an up and coming rent a pundit for the right. Where is her rigor? Per usual, fundamentalist right wing hacks can judge a book by its cover. She got what she deserved! Of course now she will be a right wing darling in her ongoing effort to further regiment education and squeeze all creativity and political challenge out of the academy. When she has written a dissertation I will take her criticism more seriously.

    • mrbean

      Yassah, She dun criticize dah Hating Whitey Studies Deepawtment. Eberbody dun know dat dah Egyptians was black, and eberbody knows dat the whites beez dah blue eye debils created 6000 yars ago by dah ebil scentist Yacub. Pawfeesaw Dupont uf Hawvard and dah Referend Farrakan dun tolt meh dis. Yassah! yonowatahsayin…..mettttt…metttt….metttt!

      • Ghostwriter

        You know,mrbean. Both you and Elmo Lews are idiots. Mr. Lewis,for not even read her post and criticizing that. He just bashed Ms. Riley because he was conservative. Of course,mrbean compounds the stupidity by returning to his old,stale "Amos n' Andy" routine,which by the way,isn't funny in the least.

    • Jacobite

      This is all pretty useless. The fact is, that throughout the world and throughout history, blacks and whites have not been able to co-exist peacefully. The Africans-in-America are correct when they point out that their existence here has been under varying degrees of violence, according to changing conditions. Since the Civil Rights Acts were passed in the 1960s, making whites de jure second-class citizens, the violence has begun changing sides. But that's not the point. the point is that violence will always be there.

    • rufus levin

      when Al Sharpton writes a dissertation, gets a legitimate PhD, then he can talk about racial issues in the media too.

  • Chris

    What a load of self-righteous nonsense. I am far from convinced that firing Mrs. Riley was the right decision, but in your piece you distort the facts and omit the essence of what the whole hullabaloo was about: That Mrs. Riley didn't even bother to read the dissertation she criticized, that she used three dissertations she didn't bother to read to dismiss an entire field and, in doing so, showed a lack of respect and understanding for academia, her area of "expertise" and the reason why she got commissioned to write the blog in the first place. And it certainly didn't help that she attacked "Black Studies" with the intellectual equivalent of Bull Connor's fire hose.

    It was still the wrong decision to fire her, precisely because she has now become a martyr for right-wing bigots who wallow in the decline of their beloved Pleasantville.

    • tagalog

      The Chronicle of Higher Education initially invited debate and discussion to critique Ms. Riley's blog; that was the right approach, then they collapsed when the intolerant mob spoke. If Riley spoke incorrectly or was too superficial, or otherwise was out of line and insufficiently rigorous, that would have been revealed by a debate. Shutting her up turned off the search for the truth, and it's now being carried on in the right-wing arena of commentary. Too bad.

      • Richard

        "that would have been revealed by a debate"…

        And it was… with references. And her response was to simply ignore it. That proves she's a conservative :)

        • Western Canadian

          Rubbish, as is expected from the hard left.

    • Questions

      If Naomi Schaefer Riley didn't read the dissertations in question, so what? Why would any person in their right mind go to the trouble to obtain and read intellectually third-rate theses by black power radicals? A more depressing way to pass one's time I cannot imagine. The reality is that the entire field of black studies is an exercise in Afro self-aggrandizement. It's radical blacks who live in their hermetically-sealed Pleasantville.

      • WilliamJamesWard

        Hermetically-sealed Unpleasantville………………………………….William

  • Rybbe

    Unfortunately for Ms. Riley (who was on the Bill Bennett morning show today and was wonderful), she now knows what David Horowitz has to contend with every day. Being intellectually honest and being public about it is a painful road to travel in our new, modern progressive academic society. Quoting a famous writer… show me a hero and I'll write you a tragedy. Our real heroes like Ms. RIley and Mr. Horowitz live a tragic, difficult life trying to save our great nation from cutlural ruin.

    • Elmo Lewis

      Yeah, she is an intolerant ranter just like Horrorwitz.. Boo hoo.

      Just learned that Horrorwitz has never even visited Israel. Sure makes him an expert!

      • Western Canadian

        And another hard left loon confirms his lack of wit and intelligence. Nothing new here.

  • Schlomotion

    This is just a cheap ploy to poach better looking writers into FPM isn't it?

    • ajnn

      i hope so. who will be next ? this is great !!!

    • reader

      Apparently, you're describing your activity here on these boards. It's just you're too dumb to realize that it won't ever work for you. Trolls need not apply.

    • Atlas_Collins

      She isn't too bad looking when you compare her to your average butch dyke progressive broad.

    • Poppakap

      …and your comment is a cheap ploy to attract attention to your nonsensical dribble.

    • Western Canadian

      Forget it sshlothinker, no woman is ever going to accept your pathetic mockery of affection….. neither the subject of this article, nor any other one.

  • StephenD

    Mr. Ahlert, you finished with this: "The mob is never satisfied."

    Truer words have never been spoken.

  • tagalog

    Institutions that conform their standards to the whims of the mob are inherently totalitarian. I was going to say fascistic, but it's not a right- or left-wing phenomenon; people of any political persuasion can be totalitarian. Just degrade the social and cultural values and people will jump right into the perceived mainstream. People like Hitler, Mussolini, Lenin, and Stalin knew this and made it pay for their visions of how life should be.

    This is the world we are in the process of fashioning here in America.

  • jack

    I think the point is that she never read the dissertations just the titles and abstracts so poor research on her part

  • BS77

    Riley is another Ann Coulter in the making…..fearless, sarcastic, bright and even inadvertently funny. You go girl!!

  • dotherightthing4

    Good for her. The Blacks don't want the truth–it's easier to blame than to accept responsibility for their own communities. Each and every day the negative image toward their communities grow. The crime, failure to act responsibly, the out-of-wedlock birth rate, drug use, black flash mobs, 50 times more black on white crime…the reality simply…IS. White people have nothing to do with this and can not change this–only blacks can do this. Blacks have done so much damage to the perception of their own race…it will take decades…IF it can ever be undone. Only Black Conservatives speak with intelligence, elegance and respectability. It is indeed a sad day in America.

  • clarespark

    Blacks were not strong enough to institutionalize "African American Studies" departments. It was liberal academics and their foundations that tried to co-opt angry blacks in the late 1960s, throwing them a bone to shut up their noisier "representatives." See…. The title of this blog "White enabling of black power." Don't miss the added material on Shirley Sherrod at the end of the blog. It is all taken from published sources and is no big hidden conspiracy. Big shots did it in front of their colleagues. And they reaped the whirlwind.

  • Al SayyiD

    Seems Chris Says and Elmo Lewis up above completely went into attack mode but fail to refute the author’s claim of mob mentality winning again. Nice try but most readers here can do their thinking on their own and see how leftists are hypocrite of the nth degree.

  • El Zopilote

    A degree in Black Studies and a dollar won't buy you a cup of coffee.

    • tagalog

      There's a pretty good likelihood that most of the time it will lead a prospective employer to say "I'll call you."

    • Argyraspide

      It will get you a good-paying job as an EEOC representative. Every one I've ever had the misfortune of meeting was black.

  • "gunner"

    so ms. riley has strayed from the path of orthodoxy, time to gather the mob. torches and pitchforks all round and burn the witch once more. we can't have this sort of independent thinking, apart from the group mind, who knows where it might lead. someone could even start talking about a "right to free speech" and other politically incorrect notions.

  • Jim_C

    Unfortunate cowardice from the Chronicle. OK, this one's for you conservatives:

    I remember reading the intro to some monograph on Carribbean Island culture that began with a screed against colonialist attitudes and impositions that, you know, inhibited, dominated, and otherwise messed with the 'authentic' native culture. The culture she seemed to still have plenty of info to be writing about. In a book. That she had the skill to write. Which other similarly-interested academics would read. Thanks to educations they received. From…?

    ding ding ding!

    "Colonialists." (I mean, I don't think the native fishermen had set up a university curriculum….)

    And we liberals say conservatives are irony free?

  • mrbean

    Some very valid statistics Black Studies scholars might ponder these absolute facts. Every single Black person living in the Western Hemisphere today would not even exist numerically today had there ancestors not come over from Africa in the 1700's to early 1800's. It does not matter how for these blacks got here or that were brought as slaves. Bottom line is that it would not be possible for a single Black person in the Western Hemisphere (numerically) to be alive today that is to exist at all anywhere in the world unless their ancestors migrated to America. So if you are black, the fact you are alive at all, have every opportunity in the world to achieve any goal you set is something that you should be grateful to history. Blacks living today are not owed anything by their fellow Americans, not even tne time of day. However, the Black Community owes the rest of America alot, as American Blacks, even the poorest, are infinitely better off than any Black anywhere in Africa. By the way, the average life expectancy in all African Countries for Blacks even today is still only between 32 years and 40 years of age. In America, yje averahe life expectancy is 68 -72 years for Blacks.

    • aspacia

      It is "their" ancestors beanbrain.

  • dysgenic

    The "mob" learned these tactics from organizations like the Anti-defamation League of B'nai Brith.

    • Ghostwriter

      What does the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai Brith have ANYTHING whatsoever to do with this topic?

      • dysgenic

        It has EVERYTHING to do with the tactics of destroying people who say things one doesn't like.

        • Western Canadian

          Only in your warped and weak mind…..

  • WilliamJamesWard

    Just how does this play out in the black students mind, any criticism of me must be unfounded,
    all criticism of me must be racist because those who dare to be negative are banished by
    the administration. How will this type of behavior ever bring students regardless of color to
    accredible standards, it will not. They will pass on with degrees that will be useless and
    that will have to be paid for unless a scholarship was attained which word belies the action.
    Spendng millions of dollars every year in phony academic programs is theft and produces
    a generation of misfits, Academia must have standards and there has to be absolute
    understanding given to the student of what the end prospects will be for the courses they take.

  • William Bradford

    Let's not forget "women's studies" and "hispanic studies" while we are here. When I was in grad school we used to laugh about this foolishness, but of course nobody would dare comment publicly about the absurdity of these vacuous, nonsensical "academic" pursuits. The liberals, as we all have come to learn to our sorrow, do not tolerate dissent of any kind. They embrace this new anti-intellectualism by turning reality on its head and pretending that this nonsense is ground breaking scholarship, and if you question the validity of it they label you a racist.

  • tkellybal

    "…black studies is a cause, not a course of study" : Brilliantly concise and %100 correct.

  • steven L

    The left looks more and more like the far left which looks more and more like communist. Demagogue. They are very dangerous.

  • bruce

    i have been studying one woman for 42yrs and still don't know what makes he tick but i love her to pieces.i was studying negroes during hurricane katrina to see who could run the fastest with a big screen TV on his that black studies?

  • Paula Revere

    In the end…Communism silences everyone- give it time!

  • Sheryl S.

    I am a mother of a soon to be college student. After a discusssion with other well informed parents concerning our children, colleges, tuition, the inability of finding jobs after graduation, young people being saddled with large student loans, I wanted to reference this author . I had the opportunity to hear her on CSPAN book TV. I found her to be very informative, knowledgable, respectful. It seemed her intent was to inform people about higher education.

    I had not heard anything about her as a blogger, nor of her being fired. Our society is becoming intolerant towards differances of opinions. The "Thought Police" do want us to all line up.

    I'm sure she has no need to play the victim as stated above. My impression is she had relevant and important information to share and will continue to do so. To bad her opinion stepped on some sensitive toes as opposed to beginning a discussion, it cost her a job. However, I am sure she will overcome.