Writer Purged for Causing Distress

naomi schaefer riley.jpgTaking note of a posting by Naomi Schaefer Riley, John Rosenberg took a hard look at what passes for cutting-edge scholarship in Black Studies–and wasn’t impressed with what he found. Rosenberg’s post became all the timelier when the Chronicle announced that it had removed Riley from the Brainstorm blog.

In an editor’s note that could have doubled as a parody of political correctness, Liz McMillen “sincerely apologize[d] for the distress” that publication of Riley’s post caused. McMillen claimed that Riley’s sharply-written but seemingly factually accurate post did not conform to the Chronicle’s “journalistic standards,” though she elected not to provide an example of how, specifically, the post failed to conform to these standards. Perhaps she feared causing further distress to the Chronicle’s extremely sensitive reading base.

The move left FIRE’s Adam Kissel to express wishes of “good luck to Chronicle bloggers! Whoever is left, that is, after the necessary purge to restore quality,” since Editor McMillen is determined to ensure “only ‘fair’ opinions henceforward.”

Affirmative Action

One of the up-and-coming figures in Black Studies profiled by Riley, La TaSha B. Levy, has posted her CV, so there’s no need to rely on Riley’s distress-causing characterization of her work. Levy, who specializes in analyzing black conservatives’ “assault on the civil-rights legacy that benefited them,” has received a variety of minority-preference fellowships and has a forthcoming publication with the only-in-academia title of “Pan-Africanism in Theory and Praxis.” Most striking, however, was news that the editors of Oxford’s Encyclopedia of African American History, 1896 to the present selected Levy to write the entries on Ward Connerly, Glenn Loury, and “Black Conservatism.”

Connerly’s campaign against racial preferences in higher education, Levy claimed, was “ignited by the empathy that he felt for white applicants,” reflecting his effort to read the 14th amendment “in order to protect whites.” (And, of course, he had the “financial backing of neoconservative foundations.”) In a fantastic interpretation of California’s Proposition 209, Levy maintained that “the controversy continued when some voters”–people who, it would seem, were living under a rock during the campaign–“claimed that they did not realize the measure ended affirmative action.”

In another essay in the encyclopedia, Levy wrote of “the racism of the Reagan campaign,” and suggested that black conservatives were characterized by “antipathy for the black poor” and “contempt for traditional black leadership, especially civil rights leaders such as Jesse Jackson, Congresswoman Maxine Waters[!!], and the Congressional Black Caucus.” The success of black conservatives, she noted, rests not in their accomplishments but in “their relationship with white conservative patrons.” If having “contempt” for Maxine Waters (Levy did not explain why she considered Waters a “civil rights leader”) constitutes grounds for conservatism, then I suspect half the House Democratic caucus would be considered a conservative.

Outcries and Distress

These views are, obviously, one-sided and extremely critical, though a major encyclopedia is under no obligation to find reviewers who are sympathetic or neutral toward the entries that they pen. That said: Imagine the outcry if the ideological opposite had occurred, and the encyclopedia’s editors had turned to a far-right critic of Jackson to pen the entry on him; or someone whose dissertation portrayed Maxine Waters as indifferent to anti-Semitism to write the Waters entry. Such a decision doubtless would have led to an outbreak of “distress” comparable to that which led Editor McMillen to purge the Chronicle blog.

Ironically, at the same time that the Chronicle was deeming off-limits certain types of criticism of Black Studies programs, the News & Observer risked distressing its readers by reporting on a searing exposé of academic fraud in 54 classes taught by the University of North Carolina’s African and Afro-American Studies Department. The scandal featured “unauthorized grade changes and little or no instruction by professors. Forty-five of the classes listed the department’s chairman, Julius Nyang’oro, as the professor. Investigators could not determine who was the instructor for the remaining nine.” Nyang’oro resigned his chairmanship, but is still listed on the department website as a full professor.

In a hear-no-evil, see-no-evil response that would have made Editor McMillen proud, UNC system president Tom Ross told the N&O that the matter was closed, since “I believe that this was an isolated situation and that the campus has taken appropriate steps to correct problems and put additional safeguards in place.”

After all, inconvenient facts could cause distress.


  • KC Johnson

    KC Johnson is a history professor at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author, along with Stuart Taylor, of The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America's Universities.

10 thoughts on “Writer Purged for Causing Distress

  1. Linda Brees, she had been a paid contributor for a year or so, as I recall reading, and the editor of the blog found this posting acceptable to post. So it clearly was not clearly unacceptable to the editor then. Only after the “outraged” commenters chimed in did the editor take it down. She had 500 words to work with, so details would be thin. To me, the titles of the articles seem enough, and she did say to read them and make your own decision. YOU have not presented evidence to support your case.
    Alex, methinks you have missed the point that I saw. Not that there are/were voters who didn’t realize what it was about, but that if they did, it wasn’t due to a lack of information/billboards/screeds/passionate blogging and news articles being available–i.e., they’d have to hide under a rock to avoid hearing or reading about it.

  2. **In a fantastic interpretation of California’s Proposition 209, Levy maintained that “the controversy continued when some voters”–people who, it would seem, were living under a rock during the campaign–“claimed that they did not realize the measure ended affirmative action.”**
    Let me get this right. You’re arguing that there are NOT substantial numbers of California voters who are uninformed about the initiatives they vote on?
    Under which rock do you live?

    1. From http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2012/05/k-c-johnson-makes-the-case-against-the-emlimination-of-black-studies-departments

      Which cites http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/40239553?uid=3739832&uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21100783582501

      “The circumstances surrounding the passage of Proposition 209 demonstrate the dangers of strategic drafting. The drafters and the campaign in favor of the initiative were generally farther to the right than most voters on the issue of affirmative action. They wanted the initiative to have broader authority to eliminate affirmative action programs than most voters. As a result, supporters sought to narrow the scope of the initiative during the campaign so that voters would think it was less controversial than it really was. The backers tried to make it sound as if the proposal would do less than it would really do so that they would not offend voter sensibilities and so they could win swing votes from the political center.

      The California Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI), the campaign in favor of 209, used strategic drafting and campaigning to convince the voters that the scope of the initiative was narrow. Although the drafters wanted to stop affirmative action programs in higher education and government employment, they feared that using the phrase affirmative action would doom the initiative. CCRI’s internal polls showed that the initiative would likely lose if the phrase “affirmative action” was used, and so CCRI chose a more appealing phrase they felt would mean the same thing. In a memorandum early in the campaign, CCRI’s own political consultant stated that “what is at issue is how the debate is framed.” Realizing the importance of the proposal’s language, the authors used strategic drafting rather than substantive changes to sway public opinion. Most polls of voters show that a majority support affirmative action programs. Therefore, the authors replaced “affirmative action” with “preferences,” a word which carried much less support in polls. Because people think of preferences as giving a person something that person did not earn, people opposed preferences in much higher percentages than they opposed affirmative action. Even though CCRI may have been seeking to end affirmative action, it couched the initiative’s language in terms of preferences to increase voter support.

      The plan succeeded, as the language of the initiative may have been the main reason for its passage. Polls conducted by the Los Angeles Times in the summer of 1996 show that when pollsters used the language of the initiative, fifty-four percent of voters supported it and thirty-one percent opposed it. However, when the next question asked if people realized the initiative would substantially reduce or eliminate affirmative action programs, support dropped from fifty-four percent to forty-three percent and opposition grew from thirty-one percent to forty percent. These statistics suggest that not only did the voters not understand the meaning of the initiative, but also that the drafters exploited the voters’ confusion in order to persuade them to vote for a proposal they otherwise might not have supported. [cites omitted]”

  3. She was hardly “purged” for causing anything. She wrote a story denigrating an entire field of study and, after telling the readers that they should just read the dissertations to understand how valid her point had been, she used THE TITLES of those dissertations to back up her point! What she was fired for was massive incompetence and lack of writing talent.

  4. Another trillion dollars of taxes down the drain on useless “education for its own sake,” or more accurately, leftist indoctrination. And woe to anybody who objects to the massive fraud. What kind of people are we generating in this degree mill? Einsteins? Edisons? Bells? No, just an angry mob of scapegoaters, eternally whining about how they are perpetual victims of a faceless villain, and they can never advance without further empowering the state and mercilessly silencing their critics.
    What are you going to do with your degree? Aside from teach it to the next wave of Marxist majors? Nothing.
    Schools that allow people to graduate (and accumulate MASSIVE, crippling student debt) without preparing them to earn a living and to contribute to society are guilty of egregious fraud, and they are bankrupting the nation both fiscally and intellectually.
    What we are seeing now is the anger of a hive exposed.
    But exposed it is.

  5. It is interesting that Maxine Waters is brought up in a post about Black Studies. During the Clinton Impeachment hearings, Maxine Waters made the astonishing claim that Clinton was being victimized like Andrew Johnson.
    Obviously, Waters doesn’t have even a rudimentary knowledge of American history as it pertains to race. Johnson was impeached because he was the leading proponent of restoring white supremacy. He opposed the fourteenth amendment and was in favor of abolishing reconstruction. He said that the United States was for white people. He was impeached because he was opposed to the Federal Government protecting the rights of freed slaves.
    When my university was going through the process of starting a program on the study of the African Diaspora, I asked the director how a history course on the reconstruction era would fit into the curriculum. He didn’t seem to be aware of the existence of such a course. Then he said it would be okay but emphasized that it had to adhere to the theme of race, class and gender. I got the impression that he had no sense of the importance of reconstruction in the evolution of race in America.
    Realizing that sweat was appearing on the brows of some of my colleagues I did not pursue the issue. I wanted to know whether the program envisioned a serious study of American history as it related to the actual struggle for civil rights or was just going to be a bunch of courses weaving together themes of gender, race and class bias.

  6. This is exactly like the flap at Duke over a paper showing that preferentially admitted students are apt to veer away from demanding majors and into the soft, undemanding ones. That hurt some feelings, leading to protests and a rebuke from the president. Here, Naomi Riley points out that Black Studies dissertations look to be feeble and she is dispatched by The Chronicle for hurting people’s feelings.
    It seems to be the case that as the arguments for “affirmative action” crumble, the more of a sacred cow it becomes.

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