Chronicle Blogger Fired After ‘Black Studies’ Firestorm

The Chronicle of Higher Education has severed ties with columnist Naomi Schaefer Riley after her piece for the magazine’s Brainstorm blog, denigrating the field of Black Studies provoked an Internet firestorm and accusations racism, reverse-racism, and suppression of the right of free press.

In her piece, Riley referred to the discipline as “a collection of left-wing victimization claptrap” and then proceeded to dismiss several recently published dissertations in Black Studies based on their titles and the short introductory abstracts. Her blog entry was “The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations,” set off a firestorm in academia.

Riley later defended her decision not to read the dissertations before rendering an opinion on their merit during her interview with Poynter when she said:

“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,” Ms. Riley wrote in a blog post on May 3. “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.”

After the article went live, it quickly spread around the blogosphere and, before long, responses both positive and negative, some hysterical, some thoughtful and well-reasoned, started popping up on education websites.

It didn’t take long before the ax fell. The Chronicle’s Editor Liz McMillen posted “A Note to Readers,” on the website explaining the decision to disassociate from Riley and apologizing for the Chronicle’s handling of the whole affair.

When we published Naomi Schaefer Riley’s blog posting on Brainstorm last week (“The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations”), 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’ve heard you, and we have taken to heart what you said.

It is no surprise that many of Riley’s supporters were disappointed by that decision, with KC Johnson, writing for MindingTheCampus.com, calling it “a purge.”

McMillen claimed that Riley’s sharply-written but seemingly factually accurate post did not conform to the Chronicle’s “journalistic standards,” though she elected not to provide an example of how, specifically, the post failed to conform to these standards. Perhaps she feared causing further distress to the Chronicle’s extremely sensitive reading base.

Scott Lemieux, however, who had queried the Chronicle’s publishing “a racist hack,” when the story first broke, said that although he is happy that Riley was fired, he wasn’t looking forward to the inevitable “martyrization,” of her by the academic right wing.