An education reporter-turned blogger whose mediocre work had been featured at Chronicle of Higher Education was cut off from that pub after she criticized a bunch of dissertation titles in African-American Studies departments. She issued the same old anti-identity politics rigmarole: that it’s all about blaming whitey, that it’s substandard work, etc. After getting canned, she valiantly defended her right to be white.
Schaefer Riley admits that she hadn’t read these dissertations, but she had no compunctions about assailing the work of three grad students by name . . . She scoffs at the idea that she should have read these dissertations before attacking the students by name. Her disregard for the facts justifies the Chronicle’s decision to fire her all by itself.
In fairness to Naomi Schaefer Riley, identity politics dissertations, or any identity politics scholarship, can get boring, myopic, and insular. It can also sound repetitive. That’s a reason for African-American Studies, and every other discipline in the humanities, to constantly strive to become more material and concrete. It may also be further proof that we need a radical, people-centered restructuring of higher education.
But you know what’s more boring, repetitive, myopic, and insular than identity politics scholarship? Right-wing criticism of identity politics scholarship. I’d rather read “The Symbolic Determinism of the Hermeneutics of Recurring Guests on Episodes of the Jeffersons” than another unoriginal diatribe by a white blogger on Black Studies.
Of course, Riley is wrong about both the empirics and the idea that “nobody reads” these disserations. Other scholars and students read them, and dissertations in any field are measured by factors other than readership, and the proliferation of academic communities and subcommunities may not be a positive thing, but not for reasons Riley suggests. And the “ivory tower” doesn’t push students into obscurity. It does the opposite: makes students into cogs in the capitalist machine, all too well, precisely because of many of the things Riley hates. She’s profoundly confused.
Should the Chronicle “cut ties” with Riley? It makes them look small to do so, but hawking anti-identity politics screedage can’t policy be a stable employment situation these days to begin with. The market’s been saturated. Riley should take up a new shtick. I hear clown porn apologists are in short supply.