The Chronicle of Higher Education Gets Taken To School

-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger

Naomi Schaefer Riley, left, wrote a piece for The Chronicle of Higher Education’s (CHE) blog entitled The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations. The trouble is: she didn’t read the dissertations, she read the titles and a synopsis of the unfinished documents, and then blogged about her speculations.

Perhaps Riley’s speculations are persuasive to some, but The Chronicle of Higher Education is directed towards academics. Academics were stunned that her substance-free hit piece was given a forum in the CHE’s blog, informed CHE of their concerns, and Riley was fired. The Right Wing Noise Machine went into full hyperbolic outrage mode calling Riley a “voice of reason” and elevating her to a “major critic” of black studies.

However, Riley is not a critic of the content of black studies, she wrote the post to make a “case for eliminating” black studies. Riley’s complaint that “high incarceration rates to low graduation rates” are problems not discussed in black studies departments is disingenuous when someone is trying to make the case for elimination of black studies departments.

Riley cites only three examples to make her case. In one example the student asserts that black Republicans 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.” Riley writes:

The assault on civil rights? Because they don’t favor affirmative action they are assaulting civil rights?

Riley has no way of knowing if the dissertation even mentions affirmative action, and offers no argument on why civil rights should be equated with affirmative action in this example.

Riley sees these dissertations as examples of “blame the white man” for the problems of blacks in America. But, she defeats her own position when she writes:

Because they believe there are some fundamental problems in black culture that cannot be blamed on white people they are assaulting civil rights?

This implies that there are some fundamental problems in black culture that can be blamed on white people. Perhaps the “high out-of-wedlock birth rates” that concern Riley can be blamed on the war on contraception led by the white leaders of the Republican party.

There are some awesome, academically-rigorous dissertations out there:

H/T: Brian Leiter (& here & here), John Casey (& here), Jerry Coyne.

32 thoughts on “The Chronicle of Higher Education Gets Taken To School”

  1. Oro Lee,
    “Why study history, all it tells us are how we made mistakes. And besides things like 1491 are probably the truth.”

  2. I’m amazed that nobody gave Naomi a little shred of credit. Has anyone been around these academic departments? I have, and there is quite a bit of truth to what she says. I also happen to think that those approaches to “study” blacks are not necessarily good for blacks. And suppose she got it wrong, why fire her?

  3. It is true that the Pilgrims were able to practice their religion in the Netherlands, and that they left there because their children were becoming Dutch, losing their “Englishness”.

    It was not the Pilgrims who were looking for riches. It was the corporation that financed the trip that expected and got the profit. The Pilgrims and the “strangers” added to the Mayflower by the corporation were required to sign a contract written by the corporation. The passengers were indentured. The contract required that they work 5 days a week for the corporation, one day for themselves and one day for worship until the debt was fully repaid. It took decades for the contract to be paid off at many times the initial amount.

  4. Thanks for the post, Elaine.

    Of particular importance is the mention of Massasoit, the most powerful of the sachems (chief, if you like) among the Wamponoag Confederation, which was itself a member of the tri-alliance with the Nausett and Massachusett nations. The pestilence which wiped out Tesquantum’s village greatly weakened the alliance and especially the confederation, making both susceptible to attack from the west by the dreaded Narragansetts,

    To defend against such attack, Massasoit sought trade relations and a military alliance with the Pilgrims. The Narragansetts – who also traded with the British – risked the loss of such trade if they were to attack another trading partner of the British. Massasoit was successful in his efforts. And Tesquantum, who had been Massasoit’s prisoner/translator, played a role but not nearly as critical as that set out in most text books.

    But — Massasoit, like so many tribal leaders who would later walk the same path, had made his pact with the white devil. Short term arrangements would lead to final disposition and ruin for the tribes.

    Thank you for engaging in this exchange. If all that one knows about Thanksgiving is what was learned . . .

  5. Thanksgiving
    (From the website of Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts)

    People across the world have been celebrating and giving thanks for thousands of years. In this country, long before English colonists arrived, Native People celebrated many different days of thanksgiving, including, for example, a “Strawberry Thanksgiving” and a “Green Corn Thanksgiving.”

    The English also had a long tradition of thanksgiving. They declared days of prayer to thank God when something good happened. For example, the English declared a day of thanksgiving in the summer of 1623 when a gentle rain ended a long drought.

    Likewise, in the fall of 1621, when their labors were rewarded with a bountiful harvest after a year of sickness and scarcity, the Pilgrims gave thanks to God. They also celebrated their bounty with a tradition called the Harvest Home. In a letter to a friend in England, “E.W” (Pilgrim Edward Winslow) wrote the only record of the celebration that survives:

    “Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that we might after a more special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the Company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some 90 men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”

    Winslow’s Letter in Mourt’s Relation (ed. Heath), 82

  6. When I went back to Bobble-head, it erased the avatar previously posted. I’ll let this one stay for a bit longer

  7. Oh yeah, the avatar is the real Oro Lee. He gave his 14 years on this planet helping the wife and me raise a couple of daughters. Thought I’d let TalkinDog and BarkinDog have a gander at one of their great ones.

    BTW, the Spanish word for gold is “Oro.” Lee is a family name. Spoken together, it sounds like the Spanish “o’rale!” Hey, come on!

    I’ll go back to the bobble-head. It suits me better than my sagacious old buddy.

  8. No doubt the Pilgrims offered a profusion of thanks during the celebration, but I am not familiar with any that might have been written down. But we do have Gov. Bradford’s Proclamation which includes the following —

    “Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as he has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.”

    Ravages of the savages. Kind of lilting and yet visceral in a Rush Limbaugh kinda of way. And no pestilence among the chosen!

    How good of God to infect the natives with diseases to which European had built up an immunity through centuries of living in their own filth and squalor!

    The Lord, He sure do work in mysterious ways.

  9. Squanto/Tisquantum–along with some other Patuxet and Nauset Indians–were taken captive by Thomas Hunt and brought to Spain where Hunt sold some of them. Squanto was saved by some friars. At some point, Squanto made his way to England where he lived with a man called John Slaney. Squanto learned how to speak English. A plague killed off Squanto’s people while he was away.


    Oro Lee,

    The Pilgrims/British Separatists who lived in the Netherlands for over a decade feared their children were losing their English identity. They decided to leave Holland and come to America. Some who came to America on the Mayflower did so for religious reasons. At the first “thanksgiving” celebration–which lasted about three days–the Pilgrims did give thanks to God for their bountiful harvest

  10. “Those who do not remember the past are free to justify anything.”

    Oro Lee 2012

  11. By the way, the Pilgrims didn’t come to America for religious freedom; they already enjoyed such freedom in the Netherlands. They came to get away from other people’s free exercise of of their religion. See, Pam Geller is more like the Pilgrims than any staunch defender of the 1st amendment.

    They really came for the land and to make a buck. The enterprise was funded by venture capitalists back in England who wanted to get in on the American fur trade. Beaver pelts made the finest hats. Until there weren’t any more beavers in New England.

    And Thanksgiving really wasn’t a religious event. And it lasted several days. And the pilgrims didn’t have those funny hats or big buckles. And the Indians weren’t invited guests, they just came and went as they pleased.

    And there wasn’t any popcorn, The dent on all the corn back then was too hard. You had to eat it ground. Maybe they had Johnny cakes. More likely just mush.

    Just like American history. Myth, mush, whatever.

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