Naomi Schaefer Riley and Mob Rule

A blog post lampooning black studies dissertations got a writer fired, setting off a controversy over the limits of free speech.

Naomi Schaefer Riley wrote a piece for The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Brainstorm blog titled “The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations,” the blowback to which got her fired and set off a controversy over the limits of free speech.

The substance of Riley’s essay is familiar to those who have followed conservative writings on black studies, women’s studies, Chicana studies, and various other academic sub-specialties focused on the dynamics of disadvantaged and non-mainstream groups in our society. She dismissed the fields as “left-wing victimization claptrap” and “irrelevant” and concluded,

Seriously, folks, there are legitimate debates about the problems that plague the black community from high incarceration rates to low graduation rates to high out-of-wedlock birth rates. But it’s clear that they’re not happening in black-studies departments. If these young scholars are the future of the discipline, I think they can just as well leave their calendars at 1963 and let some legitimate scholars find solutions to the problems of blacks in America. Solutions that don’t begin and end with blame the white man.

Ironically, however, despite the headline imploring people to “Read the Dissertations,” Riley did not actually read any of the dissertations she dismissed. Rather, she based her judgments entirely on a CHE featurette on “A New Generation of Black-Studies Ph.D.’s.” Her mocking of various terms of art in the field, displaying her own ignorance of the literature she was purporting to critique, set off a firestorm of criticism in the comments section–as well as elsewhere in the blog- and Twitter-spheres–and, naturally, she was accused of racism.

A week later, CHE publishedA Note to Readers” from editor Liz McMillen:

[S]everal thousand of you spoke out in outrage and disappointment that The Chroniclehad 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.

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.

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.  As part of that freedom, Brainstorm writers were able to post independently; Ms. Riley’s post was not reviewed until after it was posted.

I realize we have made mistakes. We will thoroughly review our editorial practices on Brainstorm and other blogs and strengthen our guidelines for bloggers.

In addition, my Editor’s Note last week inviting you to debate the posting also seemed to elevate it to the level of informed opinion, which it was not. I also realize that, as the controversy unfolded last week, our response on Twitter did not accurately convey The Chronicle’s message.

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.

The next day, WSJ published an op-ed by Riley titled “The Academic Mob Rules: Instead of encouraging wide discussion, the Chronicle of Higher Education fires a blogger.” Much of it is a whiny screed but the substantive portion has a point:

I have been a journalist writing about higher education for close to 15 years now, having visited dozens of colleges and universities and interviewed hundreds of faculty, students and administrators. My work has been published in every major newspaper in the country, most often this one, and I have written two widely reviewed books on higher education as well.

As I wrote in the book I published shortly before the Chronicle hired me, “It is not merely that [many] departments approach African-American studies from a particular perspective—an Africa-centered one in which blacks residing in America today are still deeply hobbled by the legacy of slavery. It’s that course and department descriptions often appear to be a series of axes that faculty members would like to grind.”

But why take my word for it? Scholars more learned than I have been saying the same thing for decades. In 1974, Thomas Sowell wrote that from the beginnings of the discipline, “the demands for black studies differed from demands for other forms of new academic studies in that they . . . restricted the philosophical and political positions acceptable, even from black scholars in such programs.”

Thirty-five years later in a piece for the Minding the Campus website, former Berkeley Prof. John McWhorter noted that little had changed: “Too often the curriculum of African-American Studies departments gives the impression that racism and disadvantage are the most important things to note and study about being black.”

My critics have suggested that I do not believe the black experience in America is worthy of study. That is not true. It’s just that the best of this work rarely comes out of black studies departments. Scholars like Roland Fryer in Harvard’s economics department have done pathbreaking research on the causes of economic disparities between blacks and whites. And Eugene Genovese’s work on slavery and the role of religion in black American history retains its seminal role in the field decades after its publication.

But a substantive critique about the content of academic disciplines is simply impossible in the closed bubble of higher education. If you want to know why almost all of the responses to my original post consist of personal attacks on me, along with irrelevant mentions of Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and George Zimmerman, it is because black studies is a cause, not a course of study. By doubting the academic worthiness of black studies, my critics conclude, I am opposed to racial justice—and therefore a racist.

Andrew Sullivan declares, “This time, it seems clear to me that the right is right. Riley’s commentary is well within the bounds of provocative opinion writing. Firing her was an act of cowardice and an assault on intellectual freedom.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates responds,

I had hoped to avoid writing about this because I think Schaefer-Riley was basically the initiator of a High Tech Trolling. But I took to twitter a bit last night, because, like Andrew I was appalled that she’d been fired. I just don’t believe that writing something stupid about race should be fire-able.
I do, however, think that proudly defending one’s ignorance in a publication dedicated to higher education, should always be fireable. And as was pointed out to me this was exactly what Schaefer-Riley did.


Calling for the abolition of a department based on the seeming esoteric nature of its dissertations strikes me as silly. I’m willing to bet I could make the same case against English and Anthropology departments around the country. But calling for the abolition of those departments based on the dissertations, and then bragging that you haven’t read any of them is journalistic malpractice.
Schaefer-Riley isn’t merely saying she’s ignorant of Black Studies (that would be bad.) She is saying she is ignorant of the very evidence she used to condemn black studies And amazingly she says this as though it were somehow evidence in her favor!
Thus buying Andrew’s defense of Schaefer-Riley doesn’t simply mean buying the right to criticize black studies. We’re all in agreement there. It means buying the right to criticize black studies without doing any substantive research into the field. It means buying the right to speak out of ignorance.

A similar point is made in, of all places, Gawker–a piece by Hamilton Nolan titled “When the Mob Has a Point: The Firing of Naomi Schaefer Riley.”

 One thing that Riley says is true: CHE knew who she was when they hired her, and almost certainly caved to a mob-like outcry when they fired her. Writers should not be fired solely for holding unpopular opinions. That said, she neglects to mention that she is also guilty of an offense that constitutes a very legitimate reason for a writer to be fired: being stupid.


So, to Naomi Schaefer Riley, I offer this bit of qualified support: we stand with any writers who were fired purely for taking a principled and well-argued yet unpopular stand that their weak employers could not endure. However, we also cannot think of any better reason for a writer to lose their job than the fact that they are a hack who makes poorly thought out arguments. I mean, being dumb is essentially the only good reason to fire a writer. (This is, we admit, an inherently subjective judgment which can be argued about ad infinitum. But the standard for hackery at the Chronicle of Higher Education is presumably a bit higher than it would be at, say,

Riley may have been a victim of a mob. But the mob had a point.

For me, this is a sort of reverse Ward Churchill situation. In that case, I completely disagreed with the outlandish statements put forth by the then-ethnic studies professor at the University of Colorado but defended his academic freedom. (I ultimately supported his sacking for a series of egregious violations of academic integrity which later came to light.) In this case, I’m quite sympathetic to Riley’s position. Indeed, I’ve made very similar arguments myself.

As a general rule, most of the “studies” sub-fields start with an ideological position and then backfill research to bolster preconceived notions. That’s the opposite of legitimate scholarship or, indeed, legitimate intellectual discourse. As such, I think we’d gain far more from studying the very real issues of gender, race, ethnicity, and sexuality within the confines of rigorous disciplines like sociology, anthropology, political science, and history with established methodologies and review processes. Certainly, cross-disciplinary work is important on these topics, as it is for many others. But I’d be far more comfortable with the research if it were published in established journals rather than in ones designed to put forth a given worldview.

Moreover, I’m very leery of the chilling effect on honest intellectual discourse created by the slinging around of the labels “racist” or “sexist” or “anti-Semitic” whenever someone makes arguments unpopular in certain circles.

That said, I’m fully on board with CHE’s decision here, for reasons highlighted by McMillen and amplified by Coates and Nolan. Riley wasn’t writing a self-published blog or even an education blog at a general interest magazine like Slate or The Daily Beast; she was writing for a newspaper aimed at scholars. It describes itself as “the No. 1 source of news, information, and jobs for college and university faculty members and administrators.”

Aside from being half-assed—a flaw not uncommon to the blog post, certainly including some of my own—Riley’s essay was made more egregious by specificity. Rather than lampoon the field generically or even by weaving together a thoughtful review essay, she instead based the whole screed on a sidebar about five recently published dissertations. Using the platform most read and respected by scholars, she impugned the scholarly work of five newly-minted scholars, with their names and pictures attached. And, despite these dissertations each having been peer-reviewed by a team of scholars, she castigated their scholarly worth without so much as skimming the introductions. That’s simply an outrageous use of that particular platform.

FILED UNDER: Education, Race and Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Lit3Bolt says:

    I don’t think Andrew Sullivan would be nearly a sanguine if some right-wing hack blew off the field of Gay Studies.

    And let’s be clear here, Riley’s entire point was to use the authority of the CHE to impugn the entire field of Black Studies and claimed that from reading the dissertation titles ALONE that she could conclude 1) these scholars were interested only in left-wing victimization, and 2) blaming whitey for their problems. She literally has no point. Her point is “OOGA BOOGA BLACK PEOPLE DUMB FOR THINKING ABOUT RACISM.” That’s not a viewpoint you should sympathize with, James.

    Because these scholars were not interested in discussing the REAL problems among African-Americans, REAL problems that only Riley knows about, the entire field should simply be abolished and the professors and students fired.

    Someone has a problem with obsessing about racism and advancing a particular “cause” all right. And her name is Noami Schaffer Riley.

  2. Rob in CT says:

    She didn’t even read the dissertations. She said get rid of a field of study, based on three dissertations (silly enough right there) THAT SHE DIDN’T READ.

    Then, when called on it, she claimed it was silly of anyone to expect her to read them. Something about how someone couldn’t pay her enough to read a dissertation about black midwifery. I mean, like, come on guyz! Why should she have to read stuff before denigrating it? Lolz, dumb libruls.

    How embarrassing for her employer. Hence, being fired. She wrote an aggressively ignorant post (shocking, coming from a right-winger!) and, when called on it, she doubled down.

    The whole thing strikes me as someone angling for a nice wingnut welfare gig, as the martyr of the leftist mob.

  3. superdestroyer says:

    this episode demonstrates that for all of the talk of eliminating bullying, the real agenda is legislating who actually can be the bully.

    For all of the talk of wanting to have discussions on issues, no one on the left truly wants to have a discussion on any topic that say anything other that what is politically correct.

    The also shows that the left believes that snark is something that only the left is entitled to do.

  4. Rob in CT says:

    James, I’m curious, on what do you base the following:

    As a general rule, most of the “studies” sub-fields start with an ideological position and then backfill research to bolster preconceived notions.

    I’ve had no experience with “_____ studies.” You apparently have. Can you flesh this out some?

  5. Rob in CT says:


    Read James’ post in full. This woman wasn’t trying to have a conversation. She was just trolling. And, like most trolls, she had nothing.

  6. Fog says:

    Two possibilities, maybe. Either she really thinks her post was intellectually legit, in which case she is amazingly stupid (and no, I can’t imagine she’s that thick).
    Or she’s just another grifter following the pattern – say something ridiculous, wait until the usual suspects line up both for and against, and -bingo- she’s a right wing celebrity with all the rewards that status entails. She certainly knows she will NOT be attacked from the right over violations of academic standards.
    For other examples of this technique, see West, Allan, or Palin, Sarah, or Cain, Herman, or Arpaio, Joe, ad infinitum.

  7. Fog says:

    Rob, you beat me to it.

  8. Rob in CT says:


    Exactly. She’s looking for some sweet, sweet wingnut welfare.

  9. mattb says:

    @Rob in CT: Often the ideological position is that research into that area has been systematically ignored by traditional academia/society. “Black History” for example is established because mainstream history tended to overlook the contributions of people of color.

    Perhaps the biggest problem with academic subfields has more to do with the nature of the academy — namely that in order to secure resources and prominence on a campus, an area of inquiry needs to be tied to a degree. And so you suddenly have “X studies” departments popping up next to traditional disciplines like History or Philosophy.

    And before anyone things this is just an issue with the Liberal Arts, the same thing happens on the tech/engineering side of the campus — albeit at a slower rate.

    As for the case of Schaefer Riley, TNC really nails the entire issue. If she was fired over the original blog posting, that’s a bad thing and should be criticized. But the defense of her action demonstrated a total lack of commitment to scholarly ideals, and that should be a sackable offence if you’re working for the CHE.

  10. Rob in CT says:


    Thinking about it from the angle of History (my major), I think it’s entirely possible to posit that they way the subject was taught, for a very long time, essentially ignored people of color.

    The question was and is, how should that be changed? Via a new/sub-department, or from within the traditional History department? I’m guessing, but it seems likely that this was debated and many felt the best approach was a new department. That may or may not have been the right call, decades ago. It strikes me as possible that it could have even been the right call then, but not now. But I’m pulling that our of thin air, really.

  11. jpmeyer says:

    Am I the only person that thought that there’s nothing even remotely silly or esoteric about dissertations on topics like housing policy or the demographics of political parties over time?

  12. Lit3Bolt says:


    Naomi Riley: No, because black people are whiny LOL dumb libs.

    James Joyner: I sympathize with that view.

  13. Tsar Nicholas says:

    The real tragedy is that federal taxpayer money directly is subsidizing these worthless degree programs. Shouldn’t the academe — with its hundreds of billions of dollars of endowments — self-finance these sorts of degrees? China and India are laughing out loud, all the way to the bank.

    That aside, onto the precise topic at hand, the 1st Amendment itself is a shield from government action, not from private action. With extremely rare exceptions the concepts embodied by the 1st Amendment have no applicability even to real employer-employee relationships. In the case of a blogger writing for an academic journal I’d be gobsmacked to discover anything other than a 1099 contract relationship, which neither in the technical nor legal sense is employment. Ergo the 1st Amendment is nothing but a red herring. (It’s also a pet peeve of mine when people throw out terms like “hire” and “fire” in connection with non-W-2 workplace arrangements.)

    That doesn’t mean, however, it’s not appropriate to ridicule publishers for the inherent ironies of their actions.

    So this Riley character wrote a piece that doesn’t stand up to strict scrutiny. The intellectually honest response would have been to publish a retort to that precise effect. Let’s not pretend that Riley being jettisoned was for not living up to the “editorial standards” of that publication. If someone actually believes that they’re more naive than a babe in the woods. This was a surrender to the PC mob. In the left-wing academe “diversity” is sacrosanct, except for diversity of thought and opinions. With that mindset as the backdrop Riley’s dismissal is a veritable self-parody.

  14. mattb says:

    @Rob in CT:

    Thinking about it from the angle of History (my major), I think it’s entirely possible to posit that they way the subject was taught, for a very long time, essentially ignored people of color.

    Just because something is an ideological position doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. I fundamentally agree with the idea that any field of study tends to create mainstream narratives that ignore sub-groups.

    The question was and is, how should that be changed? Via a new/sub-department, or from within the traditional History department?

    In general I agree with this.

    That said, let me unpack the other aspects of “Studies” that I missed in my initial posting. One of the other key aspects of “studies” is that they were intended to be multidisciplinary. So, for example, the Studies that I’m involved with “Science and Technology Studies” involves Historians, Sociologist, Anthropologists, Communications. and people from different technology disciplines.

    Multidisiplinariness is great!

    The problem is that the funding structure of Colleges and Universities is not particularly well suited to funding cross disciplinary efforts.* And the net result is that “studies areas” (which were initially about refocusing the attention of traditional disciplines) become degree granting departments. And rather than cranking out Historians or Sociologists, you end up with undergrads and grads with degrees in Queer Studies or Science and Technology Studies. And what began as a multidisciplinary effort becomes increasingly silo’ized.

    Again, this is not just happening in the Humanities. Another example would be the rise of Gaming degrees in Com Sci/IT schools across the country.

    * — More accurately bureaucratic structures of all types are bad at funding multidisciplinary efforts. I have first hand experience with how bad corporations were at funding similar initiatives.

  15. rodney dill says:


    I don’t think Andrew Sullivan would be nearly a sanguine if some right-wing hack blew off the field of Gay Studies.

    Depending on the examples chosen from a field of Gay Studies, he might or might not agree with it.

  16. al-Ameda says:

    What, call into the question the legitimacy of a field of study of a political demographic (Black Studies) that does not politically support conservatives? Please, this is the typical political correctness we’ve come to expect from the conservative right. This is all part of the background noise that feeds reactionary race resentment in America today. Thanks for your contribution Naomi.

    Presumably Naomi would be in favor of eliminating American Studies Programs, which traditionally has been the study of the exercise of political and economic power in America by white male Americans. After all, the most aggrieved and self-proclaimed victimized people in America today are white men. They’ve been victimized by reverse-racism, and they have seen their majoritarian status stripped from them by way of affirmative action.

  17. Meghan says:

    Thank you for saying this. It’s very, very troubling to me that Riley felt that she was qualified to make pronouncements on what constituted an appropriate subject for a Black Studies student to investigate. How privileged of her.

  18. First, saying “abolish” is silly, because it ignores the customer-provider dynamic. These majors “sell.” Second, it was horrible to say “read the dissertations” and then not read them yourself.

    But having said that, and maybe revealing a bit of my conservative soul, I kind of wonder why History and Sociology aren’t the only headliners you need. Surely the Studies programs do History and/or Sociology as their meat. Surely the’d be able to influence mainstream History and Sociology more from the inside. Surely they’d gain perceptive on History and Sociology from being on the inside.

    Maybe this is a naive question, buy why not major in Sociology and write the same sort of dissertation, if that’s your thing?

    (If you say a black student cannot write an honest dissertation from within Sociology, that would be tragic but explain why ghettoizing a new major would be the answer?)

  19. MarkedMan says:

    You know, I might have sympathy with her premise. But given that she only read the titles of the dissertations and, likewise, I only read the titles, they simply don’t strike me as way “out there”. A dissertation on midwifery? What is so horrible about that? How many dissertations in American History are about things like “The Growing Use of the Clasp Hinge in Colonial Construction” or similar. Maybe all these things are crap (BTW, not in my opinion) but if so, there is no reason to single out Black Studies.

  20. Anderson says:

    Using the platform most read and respected by scholars, she impugned the scholarly work of five newly-minted scholars, with their names and pictures attached. And, despite these dissertations each having been peer-reviewed by a team of scholars, she castigated their scholarly worth without so much as skimming the introductions.

    Good call, JJ. That was just a malevolent thing for her to write. Good riddance.

  21. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @MarkedMan: Exactly. Dissertations are supposed to be additions to the cumulative body of scholarly work. Thus, they tend to be on fairly obscure topics.

  22. MBunge says:

    Nothing in this incident has a single thing to do with mob rule. This is about the upholding of standards and how a society, or sub-society, policies the behavior of its members without having to get the state or pettyfoggin’ lawyers involved.


  23. @mattb:

    Another example would be the rise of Gaming degrees in Com Sci/IT schools across the country.

    I believe that at my old school there were only separate CS and IT schools because one (CS) was born out of the engineering department, and the other (IT) was a child of business administration.

    Gaming is very employment oriented, maybe it should be pushed to junior colleges 😉

  24. PogueMahone says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:
    So this Riley character wrote a piece that doesn’t stand up to strict scrutiny. The intellectually honest response would have been to publish a retort to that precise effect. Let’s not pretend that Riley being jettisoned was for not living up to the “editorial standards” of that publication. If someone actually believes that they’re more naive than a babe in the woods.

    Wrong. You don’t write a retort in response to shoddy work – you throw it out completely.

    Imagine, if Riley was a student and she turned in an essay – complete with introduction, thesis, body paragraphs, and conclusion – and fully admitted to not reading the research she cites as evidence to support her thesis, her professor would immediately reward her with an F.

    In the academic world, an F means “Fail.”
    In the professional world, an F means “Fired.”

    Get it, Babe?


  25. ck says:

    Here’s an alternate view of the value of research into obscure things.

    I’m an academic; my field is computer science. This is, supposedly, a “hard” subject that won’t “make China and India laugh at us”. And yet, the vast majority of papers I see published in conferences and journals are worthless. They’re published, read by a minority of conference attendees, and then promptly forgotten, never to even be cited in other papers. (This of course includes the ones I write.) Sure, the authors put a lot of work into them, they’re technically competent, etc. But they make no impact on the world at all.

    And so, yes, most work in “-studies” subjects is worthless. But that’s because most academic research is worthless. That’s just the nature of it. You come up with an idea, work hard on it, put it out there for people to see, and hope it catches on. It probably won’t. But once in a while, your idea is really good and/or lucky, and it makes an impact. You can’t really know whether this is going to happen without trying. This is how it works in a lot of areas – ask anyone who’s tried to start their own business (the overwhelming majority of which fail).

  26. @ck:

    It’s possible to avoid practicality in CS, I’m sure. But then again, I’m sure many do have direct commercial value. No fast polygon rendering research? No improved page rank algos?

    Regardless, even if a CS student flogs a dead end in AI or whatever, they probably have demonstrated marketable skills which are suitable for an entry position at MS or Google.

    I said above that there’s nothing wrong with History or Sociology (capitalized as Majors), but that doesn’t mean I’d give them high funding. Given limited funds, and opportunity costs, allocation matters.

  27. grumpy realist says:

    It’s one thing to write an editorial about something you don’t like. It’s another thing to write an editorial about something you don’t like, finally admit you didn’t do any in-depth research on it, then whine when called about it.

    If Naomi Schaefer Riley had tried to pull the same thing when writing anything for a law firm, she would have been fired. Immediately. For opening the firm to legal malpractice charges. Similarly for any position which requires a duty of care towards clients, fiduciary or otherwise.

    If Riley’s behavior is in fact acceptable behavior for a “conservative blogger”, then I guess she has demonstrated that none of them have any duty of care towards intellectual integrity, accurate research, or finding out what the truth is. Journalism for them has become nothing more than the ability to publish a screed of propaganda for whatever goal they deem worthy, to hell with actual truth. And that it’s perfectly reasonable to lie about it.

  28. Nikki says:

    @Meghan: Hey, she’s married to a black man. That gave her all the cover she needed.

  29. ck says:

    @john personna:

    It’s possible to avoid practicality in CS, I’m sure. But then again, I’m sure many do have direct commercial value. No fast polygon rendering research? No improved page rank algos?

    With respect, you’re missing my point. I don’t try to avoid practicality in my research. But whether or not my work has any practical value to industry is not something I can judge ahead of time. I always think my work is practical. The rest of the community almost always seems to disagree, based on my citation counts and lack of unsolicited lucrative job offers.

    And for the record, the vast, vast majority of research published in CS does not have any direct commercial value.

  30. Barry says:

    @Rob in CT: Oh, macroeconomics would be a good one. A bunch of right-wingers who still haven’t admitted that they f*cked things up.

  31. Rob in CT says:

    Put another way:

    If “____ studies” is such a waste, then it should be possible to make a proper case against them. That might involve a little effort, however. Like, I dunno, reading.

  32. Barry says:

    @Rob in CT: “The question was and is, how should that be changed? Via a new/sub-department, or from within the traditional History department? I’m guessing, but it seems likely that this was debated and many felt the best approach was a new department.”

    I’d like to point out that Black/African-American Studies or Women’s Studies tend to be very small departments, with most of the faculty being cross-listed (i.e., they are ‘based’ in an established field). Note – many fields are like this; U Mich just recently recognized biomedical engineering as a medical department, and there are a number of little niche organizations in any large college/university. During all of this fuss, somebody claimed that there were approximately 800-900 full-time tenured/tenure track professors in B/AA studies across the USA. When you consider how many colleges and universities are in the USA, that’s a tiny number.

  33. Barry says:

    @ck: “This is how it works in a lot of areas – ask anyone who’s tried to start their own business (the overwhelming majority of which fail). ”

    And in statistics and related fields, many papers are tiny – somebody’s exploring under what circumstances method A works better than B. It’d be the equivalent of a tech calibrating various instruments.

    In the aggregate, vital, but with lots of mockable titles.

  34. dennis says:


    I fear the event that shakes you out of your one-sided, us-vs-them mentality, sd. It’s gonna take a lot to crack that rock. Well, I’ll be here for you, man, when it happens.

  35. dennis says:


    James Joyner: I sympathize with that view.

    I don’t know James, but I don’t think that was what he was saying, and I don’t believe he sympathizes with the view.

  36. Moderate Mom says:

    Out of curiosity, other than teach, what does one do with a doctorate in “_____ Studies”? Obviously, there are only so many teaching positions available, so once all of those are filled, what other career options can realistically be pursued? Are there a lot of people with doctorates in these Studies programs out there, unemployed? I have no idea, so I’m hoping that someone with knowledge can weigh in.

  37. Ben Wolf says:

    @rodney dill: This is the same Andrew Sullivan who vehemently decried the use of the word “war” regarding Republican legislation restricting womens’ reproductive rights, and less than a week later headlines a blog post The War on Gays. It really is all about what affects him and him alone.

  38. steve says:

    It does not matter what kind of studies Naomi wants to write about. What matters is that she actually read what she criticizes. If she wants to call out people by name, she needs to read their work. She has two options if she wants to write such stuff. She can start her own personal blog, or she can go write for a think tank/partisan blog. In medicine, someone who did that would never publish again. Same for the hard sciences. You simply do not write about what you have not read.

    The sad part is that if she had actually read them, she might have been able to make a good case. Too many of these studies programs strike me as a waste of time. But, since she is a lazy hack, she should be booted.


  39. grumpy realist says:

    @steve: EGGZA–ckly. This is about as dumb as claiming you know the economic value of three patents by looking at their titles.

    And Riley’s tossing-of-the-head huffiness when called on her behavior just puts the icing on the cake: I’m just too IMPORTANT to spend time actually READING the stuff I chose to write a snippy blog post about.

    Lady: it’s called doing research. You obviously didn’t learn the basics. You want to not be laughed out of the room? DO THE WORK.

  40. superdestroyer says:


    Schaefer’s initial blog post concerning African-American Studies at Northwestern was in response to a gushing article about the program that appeared in the COHE. If the author of the original puff piece did not actually read any of the academic research of the first class of PhDs from Northwestern’s African-American Studies program should that author also be fired.

    Or is the point that gushy puff pieces OK without any background research or actual reading but that any blog or article criticizing PC topics held to a different standard?

  41. MarkedMan says:

    I’m astounded to say this, but I think super destroyer has a good point. I’ve been uncomfortable with people saying essentially “In general it is wrong to fire someone because they offended a great number of readers with non-P.C. rhetoric, but in this case the post was so misguided it is actually a fireable offense.” Superdestroyer gets to the heart of my discomfort. He asks, essentially: ‘If it is necessary to fire someone because they wrote a lazy article that slammed someone’s dissertation, is it necessary to fire someone because they wrote a lazy article that praised someone’s dissertation?’

    My answer to that is “no”, simply because the consequences of misguided praise are usually much less than those of misguided approbation. If I am careless and accidentally give someone $10 it is not the same as if I am careless and steal their lunch money.

    All this is tempered by my growing realization that Ta Nehisi Coates probably parsed this exactly right. It’s not the lazy article, it’s the refusal to acknowledge the mistakes she made. If I play this out in my head I get to this: “As the site owner I am concerned about the fact that you disparaged five peoples research without even reading that research. I think you should either read it and confirm your assumptions in a followup, or find that your were wrong and post an apology.” Schafer-Riley: “I’m not going to read them, and I’ll continue to write like this in the future.” If something close to that happened I would have no choice but to revoke her blogging privileges. But I would make darn sure to spell it out. The way the editor described it seemed to be more like “She wrote something that offended a lot of readers. We don’t want you to be offended so I’ve sent her packing.”

  42. mattb says:

    @Moderate Mom: Typically the answer is teach, research, and sometimes go into policy (see someone like JJ) or journalism.

    The thing is that not every “Ethnic studies” program grant PhD’s. Of the department’s that do, they typically accept less than 10 students a year, and not all of those students finish. As someone pointed out up thread, it’s not like hundreds of PhD’s are being minted each year in these subjects.

    If’ we’re talking about area studies — like Science and Technology, Feminist/Gender, or American (as two examples) — the departments are sometimes larger.

    And in some cases the grads end up teaching in other departments — for example STS post-docs sometimes end up teaching in Anthro, Soc, or History — other “Studies” students end up in English departments.

  43. Meghan says:

    @Nikki: I’m surprised she didn’t once utter the words, “But my best friend is black!”

  44. superdestroyer says:


    Actually I believe that her husband is black. I guess she thought that would protect her from accusations of racism. But in reality, the only real protection of accusations of racism is mouthing political correction is as much energy as a mourner at a North Korean state funeral.

  45. Eli Rabett says:

    Ever read the Talmud?