Profiles in Courage

I’m never on time in academia.  In fact, I think always trying to be on time– to be timely, fashionable, etc.– is one of the big problems of academic culture. Last year or the year before it was Tweeting; now that’s passed and we are on to Klout or, I suppose, Klouting….

Anyway, I was doing my usual behind the times reading this morning and found this passage by the ACTA, in defense of a blogger recently dumped by the Chronicle of Higher Education:

She argued on the basis of the Chronicle’s own descriptions of the dissertations that they were substituting political partisanship for objective research and analysis. Her piece was sharp, controversial, and sarcastic, but certainly not out of bounds.

A Profile in Cowardice,” The American Council of College Trustees and Alumni

The ACTA is a very right-wing sort of organization in a very old-fashioned bourgeois way. It’s hard to imagine that they would support anything “sharp, controversial, and sarcastic.” That would be so gauche. So I plowed though the blog entries until I found the piece, called, “The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations.”

It’s really a nasty little rant, half Rush Limbaugh style vitriol and half Steve Allen reading rock lyrics out loud silliness. The second is a joke that was once pretty funny but is now a half-century old cliché; the first might offend bourgeois sensibility but only in a very superficial way. Limbaugh may be crude, the proper class– or properly rich class– says, but he’s right.

So why would the ACTA bother to chastise the Chronicle for deciding to drop the author, Naomi Schaefer Riley, from its rolls? Here’s a few of her “sharp” statements. Riley, by the way, takes care to name the dissertation’s authors, too, as she mocks their titles; she hasn’t read the dissertations, but she wants to be certain that her sarcasm is as personal as possible:

“How could we overlook the nonwhite experience in “natural birth literature,” whatever the heck that is?”

“The subprime lending crisis was about the profitability of racism? Those millions of white people who went into foreclosure were just collateral damage, I guess.”

“The assault on civil rights? Because they don’t favor affirmative action they are assaulting civil rights? Because they believe there are some fundamental problems in black culture that cannot be blamed on white people they are assaulting civil rights?”

The ACTA, of course, wants to use the dismal of this writer as an example of the left-wing biases of higher education, subset, higher-education media. “See,” they say, “whenever we express our ideas we get shut down!” It’s a disingenuous argument at best. The problem with these statements isn’t their suggestive racism, although that’s bad enough, it’s their faked ignorance.

Steve Allen knew that rock lyrics weren’t poetry and I am sure that Riley isn’t as ignorant as she wants to sound either. None of the subjects she mentions– neglected non-white writing, racism in mortgage lending, or the impact of Black supreme court justices on the gains of the civil rights movement– are particularly surprising, much less new, or, more importantly, fully resolved.

There’s plenty of non-white writing yet to be found and we still don’t yet fully understand the impact of racism in the housing crisis or how conservative Black justices have shaped our legal system. These might not be particularly original subjects, but they are hardly irrelevant topics. They are, however, ways of thinking about history that the polite (or not)  right would rather not discuss.

The Chronicle did no one any favors by dumping Riley. Her dismissal will only reinforce the academic right’s persecution complex and offer another opportunity for them to repeat their “left-wing academia” mantra. (Never mind those giant, influential business schools and economic departments!) Riley, though, is just wrong and, I suspect, trying to give her brand a higher profile.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

One Thought on “Profiles in Courage

  1. I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed reading Profiles in Courage | I posted it on my Facebook to hopefully give you more readers.I will certainly come back to read future posts. DIY Legal Documents On-Line

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