In response to “Black Studies: ‘Swaggering into the Future,’” Naomi Schaefer Riley penned “The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations.” To put it mildly, her piece generated no small amount of controversy, ending (or beginning) with her dismissal from The Chronicle of Higher Education’s blog Brainstorm. Both in print and online Ms. Riley tells her side of the story in the Wall Street Journal. She ends her remarks with the following:
My longtime familiarity with the absurdities of higher education did not, I confess, prepare me for this most absurd of results. The content of my post, after all, is hardly shocking; the same thing could have been written 30 years ago. And perhaps that’s the most depressing part of all this. Despite the real social and economic advancement that has been made by blacks in this country, the American faculty is still stuck in the 1960s.
Consider the following modest proposal: a Marxist read on the Riley kerfuffle. It’s a return to the 1960s, but it’s not about race. It’s about economics.
Here’s the argument: Criticizing a single tenured academic does not threaten that academic’s income nor the income of his colleagues. If someone is criticized, then that could be fantastic for the discipline, and for that academic, too (file the criticism under to power, speaking truth). However, if the entire discipline is criticized, then, from an economic point of view, professors have a problem, for at least two reasons.