Naomi Schaefer Riley and the Corruption of the Academy
Even though The Chronicle of Higher Education long ago reflected the leftist agenda of its readership, I never could have imagined it would stoop so low as to fire someone for writing a piece at variance with the political correctness it has come to uphold. But it did. The Chronicle fired Naomi Schaefer Riley for revealing what almost everyone on any campus knows, but is reluctant to say, about black studies: it is a political cause masquerading as an academic discipline, and if there were real intellectual, and not political, standards on campus, it would be shut down.
There is, however, a larger issue: not only is what Schaefer Riley says true about why black studies should be closed down, but her statements could also be easily extended to many fields in the social sciences and humanities. The vulnerability of the campus on this issue is why the Chronicle chose the unseemly and totally inappropriate device of censorship. It was so willing to placate its audience of ideological leftists massing with pitchforks in hand that it inadvertently gave Riley's exposé on black studies far and away more visibility than it would otherwise have achieved.
For a higher education periodical to substitute censorship for debate speaks volumes about the deterioration of the entire educational edifice. In order for this failing institution to persist, its reality must be hidden from the larger public. Large segments of higher education are not education at all, but an expensive immersion in leftist propaganda for the attainment of a degree that is as worthless as all the multicultural requirements coerced on a captive and overly passive audience of students.
A large part of academia is a bubble, and like early warnings about the housing crisis, few in academia want to acknowledge that the bubble is about to burst. In academia, as in the world of investment banking, no one wants to kill the golden goose. Too many have such strong and vested interests in the system as it exists that they have no motivation to consider the long-term consequences.
There is the already bloated academic bureaucracy that keeps growing. Where else can a degree in an intellectually demanding field like education administration command a mid-six-figure salary? There is the student loan industry that charges variable-rate interest and has created spiraling debt that an increasing number of former students cannot pay. There is the local construction industry that is turning universities into country clubs. There is the faculty that has transformed departments into a propaganda mills for left-wing causes. There is the diversity industry that has used universities to create make-believe jobs for black professionals, who thrive on allegations of victimization. And, of course, there are the students and their parents, who want easy degrees and only later become disappointed when those degrees are found to be not gateways to economic success but debt-laden albatrosses.
At the same time, minority legislators want to know how well universities are doing for their constituents. In many states, state legislators have courtesy adjunct appointments on university faculties and are present to intrude personally in the university's business, especially when it comes to a school's responsiveness to minority students.
For public universities, not only is it necessary to all but go to the shopping malls to recruit minority students, but it is also vital to make sure that the institution is committed to their retention and their advancement through the system. This serves to keep the caucus of minority legislators -- the minions of perpetual outrage and the bloodhounds of discrimination -- at bay. Social promotion, consequently, is no longer restricted to high school. It is vital in minimizing the intrusiveness of legislators. As one legislator told me, "I watch to see how many blacks get degrees." Indeed, we knew he watched, and we certainly knew how to produce blacks with degrees, which sometimes was something altogether different from education.
Even with grade inflation, institutionalized minority sympathy grading, and departments that are little more than left-wing propaganda mills, some minority students fall through the cracks. Many of them are totally unprepared for college. They were recruited to keep up the numbers for the government record-keepers and to assuage the minority caucuses in the legislature. These students need a safety net. And this is one of the functions of the various studies programs like black studies.
When athletes do poorly in their classes, they become ineligible. The athletic program then enrolls them in a summer course that might be called "the theory of the forward pass." This is obviously not a course in the physics of trajectories, but is one that generates four easy hours of "A" to balance out bad grades and maintain eligibility. Studies programs serve similar purposes. Courses in "black hair," "gangsta rap," and "the politics of white oppression" can pump up the most dismal of averages and retain students.
So why all the outrage over Schaefer Riley articulating what has long been in the public domain for anyone who cared to read it? Schafer Riley's "crime" is that she made it too visible. A half-century ago, the South Korean government invested in the creation of a resort complex called Walker Hill and publicly advertised all its licentious activities to lure the patronage of American soldiers. The U.S. military immediately declared Walker Hill off-limits. The South Koreans were both incredulous and outraged. When they confronted the American military, saying that the soldiers went to Tokyo to indulge in all the same vices and yet the military never declared Tokyo off-limits, the military simply responded that Tokyo did not advertises its vices on large billboards. The South Koreans took down the billboards, and the military's restrictions were lifted.
Schaefer Riley was unwilling to join The Chronicle of Higher Education in playing cover-up or in going along with its fatuous pieces on black studies that ultimately led to her biting and controversial response. Academia cannot tolerate the antiseptic of truth. And as students know, it is about not just black studies, but a large number of required courses that teach nothing useful, but intead serve the vision of those who think academic freedom gives them a license to use the classroom to indoctrinate social and political values.
I had an advisee, an older student and veteran, whose schedule put him in an English lit section where the professor was obsessed with animal rights. All the readings were about the abuse of animals. In addition, the students were coerced to work at a local animal shelter, tending to animals and cleaning cages in order to get their credits for English lit. Imagine paying hundreds of dollars a credit-hour for the sublime experience of cleaning up animal dung.
I know of departments where dissertations never mentioned "Israel," but instead referred to it as the "Zionist entity," and this was considered scholarship. I know of dissertations written totally from Marxist and Soviet Union sources. I know of faculty who wrote dissertations for minority students. I know of Middle East departments where faux history required students accept that the current-day Palestinians are the descendants of the Philistines. I know of a psychology department where any departure from the "fact" that Beethoven was black will be tolerated to the sound of one's grade falling through the floorboards. I know of faculty who passed people on preliminary examinations by simply asking leading questions and doing so without a tinge of embarrassment or conscience.
Black studies might be different in degree, perhaps, but not in kind. The same corruption, the same useless propaganda masquerading as scholarship, the same turgid scholarship sanctified with the frequent but often inappropriate use of statistics, and the same social promotions all exist throughout the liberal arts colleges. The system is corrupt. The students are learning how to mouth the political banalities of their professors and little more. That is why they are unemployable in positions that require college educations. That is why they cannot pay off their student loans. That is why we continue to recruit professionals from overseas.
Naomi Schafer Riley exposed not just black studies; indirectly, she exposed the bubble that is academia. Academia in the liberal arts and sciences has become a therapeutic society for angry leftists able to act out in class under the guise of academic freedom, and higher education has deteriorated into a propaganda mill for those seeking their own brand of social justice. Although nearly everyone knows what academia has become, just as everyone knew about Walker Hill, there is a large vested interest in not having it splattered on billboards for the world to see. Naomi Schafer Riley had the courage to run afoul of those interests. The academic world needs more truth-telling.