The Chronicle of Higher Education has fired our former editorial-page colleague, Naomi Schaefer Riley, for a blog posting on the Chronicle's website that offended 6,500 professors. Well, they're not all professors yet, but they are members of what calls itself the "higher-education community," for which the Chronicle is its trade paper. As best we can make out, the Chronicle's editor, Liz McMillen, fired Naomi Riley for doing what she was hired to do—provide a conservative point of view about current events in academe alongside the paper's roster of mostly not-conservative academic bloggers. _WSJMs. Schaefer Riley tells the story from her point of view:
Recently, the Chronicle of Higher Education published a cover story called "Black Studies: 'Swaggering Into the Future,'" in which the reporter described how "young black-studies scholars . . . are less consumed than their predecessors with the need to validate the field or explain why they are pursuing doctorates in their discipline." The "5 Up-and-Coming Ph.D. Candidates" described in the piece's sidebar "are rewriting the history of race." While the article suggested some are skeptical of black studies as a discipline, the reporter neglected to quote anyone who is.
Like me. So last week, on the Chronicle's "Brainstorm" blog (where I was paid to be a regular contributor), I suggested that the dissertation topics of the graduate students mentioned were obscure at best and "a collection of left-wing victimization claptrap," at worst.
For instance, the author of a dissertation on the history of black midwifery began her research, she told the Chronicle, because she "noticed that nonwhite women's experiences were largely absent from natural-birth literature." Another graduate student blamed the housing crisis in America on institutional racism. And a third argued that conservatives like Thomas Sowell, Clarence Thomas and John McWhorter have "played one of the most-significant roles in the assault on the civil-rights legacy that benefited them."
The reaction to my blog post ranged from puerile to vitriolic. The graduate students I mentioned and the senior faculty who advise them at Northwestern University accused me (in guest blogs posted by the Chronicle editors) of bigotry and cowardice. The former wrote that "in a bid to not be 'out-niggered' [their word] by her right-wing cohort, Riley found some black women graduate students to beat up on." (I confess I don't actually know what that means.) One fellow blogger (and hundreds of commenters) called my post "racist."
Gina Barreca, a teacher of English and feminist theory at the University of Connecticut, composed a poem mocking me. (It begins "A certain white chick—Schaefer Riley/ decided to do something wily.") MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry spewed a four-minute rant about my post, invoking the memory of Trayvon Martin and accusing me of "small-mindedness."
Scores of critics on the site complained that I had not read the dissertations in full before daring to write about them—an absurd standard for a 500-word blog post. A number of the dissertations aren't even available. Which didn't seem to stop the Chronicle reporter, though. And 6,500 academics signed a petition online demanding that I be fired.
At first, the Chronicle stood its ground, suggesting that my post was an "invitation to debate." But that stance lasted for little more than a weekend. In a note that reads like a confession at a re-education camp, the Chronicle's editor, Liz McMillen announced her decision on Monday to fire me: "We've heard you," she tells my critics. "And we have taken to heart what you said. 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."
When I asked Ms. McMillen whether the poem by fellow blogger Ms. Barreca, for instance, lived up to such standards, she said they were "reviewing" the other content on the site. So far, however, that blogger has not been fired. Other ad hominem attacks against me seem to have passed editorial muster as well. _Naomi Schaefer Riley_in_WSJ