The sad ebbing of standards in academia

OoL, as the name suggests, is concerned with freedom and yet other topics get roped in, e.g. atheism but I suppose that can be construed as freedom of worship [or not]. At the beginning, there was a post on the World Core Curriculum, which some said had little to do with freedom.

Actually, it had everything to do with freedom because it was about the proliferation of “World” colleges in every nation, teaching a uniform social policy education. Very much a producer of “the new child” for “world leaders”. Just as the pervasive and corrosive influence of the Frankfurt School was shown to have produced a great deal of the trouble about today.

Now here’s one about blacks, not a topic I blog on all that much because it’s boring. Maggie’s Farm points to PJ Media Roger’s Rules, which has an item about the Naomi Riley affair.

Firstly, it’s nice how Maggie’s says:

The Naomi Riley affair is just one more example of enforced groupthink in academia. After all, everybody knows that any academic department called “Studies” is non-serious, and exists solely as a sop to some interest group.

And when you think of it, there are so many examples which make it so. You can be guaranteed it will be staffed and peopled by left-leaning tree-hugger types. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with loving and being connected with nature – hell, I love thunderstorms and driving snow – but when that translates into social policy, colour me out.

Sooner or later it gets down to grievance and self-entitlement and that’s more boring than anything.

Now, the lady they’re calling racist and who’s just been drummed out of academia is actually married to a black man so surely that colours the way her opinions should be analysed on this particular topic?

Riley’s brief column only highlights what we all know to be true about the pseudo-discipline of Black Studies. And what was the upshot of her foray into the forbidden territory of truth about this embarrassing subject? A cataract of outrage from readers of the Chronicle’s blog — almost all of whom are academics.

And a legitimate question arises about which opinions are or are not allowed, especially if they’re substantiated:

Why is it that more and more editors these days seem to respond to any controversial piece — controversial in challenging the reigning political pieties, that is — by public rituals of ostracism? Their first response to speech they or some of their readers don’t like is to rusticate the offender while loudly assuring the public of their own spotless virtue.

Pardon me but academia was always supposed to be the free flow of ideas and their examination and discussion. This wasn’t discussion – this was the gag. And of course, the real reason – disagreement with the orthodoxy – was dishonestly explained away thus:

“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.”

The day OoL admins act like that is the day it should fold. This is one blog where you can put whatever ideas you like on the vague theme of freedom, provided you substantiate them. Of course you can put them unsubstantiated too but in comments, you’ll very quickly be asked to substantiate them.

So, what was the storm over? It was: “The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations.”

“‘So I Could Be Easeful’: Black Women’s Authoritative Knowledge on Childbirth,” by Ruth Hayes. “It began,” Riley writes, “because she ‘noticed that nonwhite women’s experiences were largely absent from natural-birth literature, which led me to look into historical black midwifery.’ How could we overlook the nonwhite experience in ‘natural birth literature,’ whatever the heck that is? It’s scandalous and clearly a sign that racism is alive and well in America, not to mention academia.”

This is the height, the cutting edge of American academia? As Rodge puts it:

Everyone knows, though few have the temerity to say, that “Black Studies” is an awful confidence game: an exercise in racial grievance mongering utterly without scholarly merit. In this, I hasten to add, it resembles many other pseudo-disciplines invented since the late 1960s to provide a home for intellectually challenged but politically fermenting denizens of our universities: Women’s Studies, Gay and Lesbian Studies, Transgender Studies, etc. etc. Kingsley Amis once observed that much that was wrong with twentieth century academia could be summed up in the word “workshop.” “Studies” is the new “workshop.”

Yep and this time, the craven academics do not have it all their own way:

See Riley’s splendid op-ed in the WSJ today: “The Academic Mob Rules.”

See also Ron Radosh: How the Academic Establishment has Silenced a Major Critic of the Field of “Black Studies”

What is most grievous about that utter bollox in those dissertations is the flagrant breaking of long-established academic standards on structure and presentation and any academic from the 60s at the latest knows how stringent those standards once were. You didn’t get published unless you met those, e.g. on plagiarism, e.g. on circumlocution – there are so many points on which one had to be disciplined.

By grievous, I mean saddening and sickening, plus fearful of the political takeover, not especially on the climate of opinion – leftists have run the show since the turn of the 20th century – but on the standard of the “works”. When a bunch of academics can view those dissertations and actually be satisfied to the point that they call for action on any academic who calls them out – then that is when academia has reached utter direness.


[H/T Chuckles for the Maggie’s piece]

5 comments for “The sad ebbing of standards in academia

  1. Watchman
    May 10, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    I’ve always wondered how a Black Studies department (or insert other qualifier of choice) worked – could you be thrown out for producing something that studied the racial experience of non-blacks for example, which is after all nececssary for any well-rounded picture (gender history – which is valid – only came to fruition when masculine history was written alongside feminine history, and the interesting gaps and interfaces became apparent).

    It is worth noting that the more classical subjects – history, economics, politics, even sociology – still allow debate about the applicability of certain viewpoints (one of the best things about feminist historians is that they can be wound up so easily…). This is because there is still a wide-enough variety of opinions in those subjects that groupthink cannot exist. The new ‘studies’, like the development of new ‘scientific disciplines’, produces small groups who defend their positions and conclusions as fundamental to their subject, but never question that their subject is correct.

  2. Voice of Reason
    May 10, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    If you really want to steam, look up Professor Jeffries (at NYU, if I recall), and his theory of ‘Sun’ and ‘Ice’ people.

  3. Voice of Reason
    May 10, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    This is not the height os US academia. In fact, the old guard are fighting a losing battle as the institutions focus more on mathematics, science and engineering.

  4. P T Barnum
    May 10, 2012 at 7:20 pm

    Seems to me, retired academic historian that I am, that Ms Riley was taking some cheap shots at graduate students’ assessed work (rather than established academics’ published work) to make her case and that the Chronicle decided to keep their readership happy rather than stand by a ‘publish and let the writer be damned’ stance (as I think they should have). As such, no one looks very clever or very ethical.

    I also am struck by the fact that I have seen far more absurd, far-fetched and non-sensical work undertaken in university humanities’ departments than the examples she cites, two of which could be argued as potentially interesting new slants or new archival research into areas previously seen through only one perspective. But then I would need to read the whole dissertation before I dissed it, rather than a mere sketch, unlike Ms Riley.

    Having no particular affection for stuffing such students into a ghetto, when I would far rather see them doing such work within a non-aligned department, it was not so very long ago when those dissertations could not have been at all within a university. I hope Black Studies and all its kin will wither on the vine because the valuable and original work being done inside them will now be able to find a home in the mainstream. But that only happened because of the transitional process of establishing the field as worthy of study at all.

    James, you seem, ironically, to be arguing for there to be no silencing of dissenting voices, via the silencing of very junior academic voices. I’d rather that no one was silenced, not even Ms Riley, although I wish my erstwhile peers had held her to account for her chippy meanness and not shouted her down like bar-room bores.

    • May 10, 2012 at 8:04 pm

      There is a huge difference between silencing dissenting voices on an even academic playing field, PTB, and a prof doing his job of explaining why certain work is not up to scratch.

      I’d often point out to the students I was guiding in their dissertations what was good and what was not. If I hadn’t done that, the students would have run the risk of lower grades and so they expected I’d do it without causing too much GBH.

      There seems to be a confusion here between students and academics themselves. That academics would let such work through was their fault, rather than the students’ and that was, I think, the point being made in the article.

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