There’s the academy, and then there’s the real world. The Chronicle of Higher Education, which is the academy’s weekly newspaper of record, has long seemed interested in keeping, if not one foot, then at least a toe or two in the real world, publishing articles that are written in lively, non-academic prose and even, from time to time, in the name of intellectual diversity, running pieces that take a less than entirely reverential view of higher education’s left-wing orthodoxies. It’s a delicate balance – how much heresy can you allow into the tabernacle without outraging the faithful?
The Chronicle‘s editor, Liz McMillen, found out the answer to that question other day when one of her regular bloggers, Naomi Schaefer Riley, as reported here recently by Arnold Ahlert, reacted online to a Chronicle piece entitled “Black Studies: ‘Swaggering Into the Future.” The piece, which celebrated an up-and-coming generation of Black Studies scholars who are “rewriting the history of race,” included descriptions of five supposedly exemplary dissertations produced by students in Northwestern University’s recently instituted Ph.D. Program in Black Studies.
What was the gist of these brilliant, pioneering scholarly works? Well, one of them linked the subprime lending crisis to white racism. Another argued, essentially, that black conservatives like Thomas Sowell are the tools of white racists. A third celebrated Barbara Jordan and Shirley Chisholm for confronting racism – and sexism, to boot. A fourth assailed racial profiling – which, of course, is racism set in system. Riley quite sensibly dismissed it all as “left-wing victimization claptrap.” Her post unleashed a firestorm. Hundreds of academics posted comments savaging her as a racist and accusing her of “hate speech.” (Incidentally, Riley’s husband is black.) Several thousand signed an online petition demanding her dismissal. After holding tough for a few days, McMillen capitulated, firing Riley and posting a pathetic mea culpa in which she assured Riley’s critics that she understood she had made a mistake.
“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,” McMillen wrote. “I realize we have made mistakes. We will thoroughly review our editorial practices…and strengthen our guidelines for bloggers.” McMillen apologized, additionally, for an Editor’s Note in which, by inviting readers to debate Riley’s post, she had “seemed to elevate it to the level of informed opinion, which it was not.” She even expressed regret for a tweet of hers which, she now realized, “did not accurately convey The Chronicle’s message.” As if she had not already made perfectly clear her absolute, utter, and cringing contrition, McMillen concluded as follows:
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.
One theme many of you have sounded is that you felt betrayed by what we published; that you welcome healthy informed debate, but that in this case, we did not live up to the expectations of the community of readers we serve.
You told us we can do better, and we agree.
As Riley noted in a follow-up piece in the Wall Street Journal, McMillen’s apology read “like a confession at a re-education camp.” Which is only appropriate, given that the humanities and social sciences departments of American colleges today are indeed, to an alarming extent, precisely that: re-education camps. The principal objective isn’t to teach young people facts or to train them to think; it’s to indoctrinate them with a rigid, well-nigh cartoonish set of left-wing certitudes about the evils of capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism, and about the intrinsic association of these evils with the West (especially with the United States) and with the villainous figure of the white male, whose historical oppression of certain groups – chief among them women and people of color – certifies members of those groups as official victims. (As the case of Elizabeth Warren has reminded us, American Indians are near the top of the list of those academically certified groups.)