It’s always been hard to take Naomi Schaefer Riley seriously. Hers is a brand of politically-motivated “journalism” only considered credible by the likes of people like Bill O’Reilly. In an effort to expose students to multiple points of view, I recently taught Riley’s book The Faculty Lounges in my higher education policy course, and my undergraduates found it laughable. It’s essentially a series of empty claims and distorted facts with little evidentiary basis (seriously, she thinks teacher tenure is a ‘main driver’ of rising college costs!), much like the little talks she’s given around the country promoting it.
So I was a little surprised when the Chronicle of Higher Education hired her to join Brainstorm. But, I thought, perhaps she knows a little more than her book revealed– and I like to read debates on blogs, so why not bring her on? A former Brainstormer myself (I blogged from June 2009-July 2010 and resigned only because the time commitment was interfering with raising a new baby), I have long appreciated the freedom the editors provide to bloggers. But that reign isn’t without limits–here’s the main caution I was given when I began blogging for CHE: “In submitting postings, you warrant that they are original, do not infringe another’s copyright or proprietary rights, and do not violate any person’s right of privacy. You also warrant that your article will contain no libelous or other unlawful material. You agree to cooperate fully with The Chronicle in responding to and defending against any third-party claims relating to your postings.”
I took those words very seriously. Before posting, I always asked myself “Is this really appropriate for a large, authoritative venue like CHE?” If I was being critical of someone else, which I often was, I made certain I respected CHE by assembling all of my facts, linking to citations, and asking someone else to read it over before publishing. And I certainly never aimed to do any harm. If I had an opinion that I couldn’t fully research and prepare a reasonable defense of quickly, I reserved it for my personal blog–read by 100s, not 1000s.
Riley clearly doesn’t share my respect for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Why am I not surprised, given her disrespect for academia more generally? What she wrote this week about Black Studies departments was emotion-laden spewing, a venomous disdainful piece directed at young women scholars of color. She offered not a single fact on which to rest her case. She clearly aimed to harm these scholars by calling for the end of their discipline, ridiculing their dissertations, and she did so without even reading their dissertations (e.g. without investigating whether there was any truth to her claims of irrelevance). The last issue regarding libel–whether she caused actual harm–remains to be determined. The truth is, it’s quite possible: let’s ask these women whether Riley has cost them valuable time better spent on their work or whether they are receiving hate mail causing emotional distress.
Admittedly, I’m no lawyer. But whether or not she really broke her contract by writing something libelous, Riley definitely thumbed her nose at CHE and undermined the paper’s credibility, damaging its relationship with scholars nationwide. That’s a damn shame. She ought to be fired for that abuse of power. CHE need not continue to lend her its platform. Let her go.