The academic blogosphere is all a flutter because Shaefer Riley* recently wrote a short piece criticizing recent research that has come out of Black Studies Departments in the United States. Regardless of one’s opinion about Black Studies or the qualities of the dissertations that were directly named in her piece, The Chronicle of Higher Education should be defended for having the courage to publish op-ed pieces that challenge the east-coast elite liberal-college establishment. Not only did The Chronicle do this once, but twice, when they posted her rebuttal to the criticism from the group of “scholars”, who probably spent tax payer dollars, talking about how they are proud to have spent the last several years of their lives thinking, not producing anything of commercial value. Not even a blog.
In particular, I herald both Shaefer Riley and The Chronicle for publishing an article for which no research was conducted. None was, in fact, needed. In Riley’s own words: “I’ll forgive the commenters for not understanding that it is not my job to read entire dissertations before I write a 500-word piece about them.” Indeed, why would one have to read a document on which one is commenting? If the graduate students in question could not provide accurate titles to describe their research that most likely runs into hundreds of pages, then they probably don’t deserve the PhD’s that these out of touch ivory towers bestowed on them. And if the titles were accurate, then Riley was correct in her assessment. I don’t see the problem.
Shaefer Riley’s article, as harsh as it may have seemed to the individuals named, should be seen instead as an opportunity for these students to learn what life is like in the real world. In the real world one doesn’t waste years studying one stupid topic. You have to be able to make quick opinions about anything, and verbally bludgeon anyone who disagrees with you, regardless of why. That is a true sign of intelligence and strength in our society. And if your opponent whines that you’re a bully, well, then you must be doing something right.
The commentators who have criticized Shaefer Riley for lacking a coherent, logical argument and for simply resorting to personal insults just don’t get it. But The Chronicle does. The Chronicle obviously understands that in the real world, with its twenty-four hour news cycles and intense competition for market dollars, that printing shocking opinions- particularly ones that are offensive- are the best way to get hits and likes, regardless of the quality of the writing. Any opinion matters, and the more blustery the better. In fact, all graduate students have been done a service by being shown that there are faster, simpler ways than conducting research to get your name in print. And a real paycheck in your pocket. Perhaps someday all academics will drop their boring discourse bullshit and peer-review nonsense to join the rest of the adults. Because Shaefer Riley is right- very few people will read these, or any, dissertations, no matter how relevant, thoroughly researched, or well written. But many, many people are reading her infantile rants on her blog. Thanks, Chronicle, for proving to us once and for all that measured, considered analysis is a waste of all of our time.
* I also won’t link to SR. Instead, I’ll link to this brilliant blog who first brought this issue to my attention. Despite the admonishments of the Editor of the “Brain Storm” blog over at CHE, this is not a teaching moment. Not everyone deserves to be debated.