Conservative commentators and think tanks have rushed in recent days to the defense of embattled journalist Naomi Schaefer Riley, who was fired from her job as a blogger with the widely respected Chronicle of Higher Education for questioning the value of black-studies programs.
Chester E. Finn, president of the conservative education think tank the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, called the decision “a truly reprehensible episode in the annals of American journalism.”
Liberal-turned-conservative Harry Stein, contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal magazine, said it represents “one more nail in the coffin of American higher education.”
Commentary Magazine writer Jonathan Tobin argued that Ms. Riley “transgressed no rules of journalism other than the need not to offend powerful constituencies.”
The heated debate, which has escalated quickly in the days since Ms. Riley’s April 30 piece was published, has again shined a spotlight on the sticky issue of race relations in America, particularly in academia.
In her post to the magazine’s Brainstorm blog, commenting on a lengthy Chronicle news feature on black studies, Ms. Riley said several of the black-studies dissertations cited in the piece were “a collection of left-wing victimization claptrap.”
She also argued that their topics — which included supposed racism in the subprime mortgage market and an examination of “historical black midwifery” — miss the mark by failing to address the real problems facing the black community.
“There are legitimate debates about the problems that plague the black community from high incarceration rates to low graduation rates to high out-of-wedlock birth rates,” she wrote. “But it’s clear that they’re not happening in black-studies departments.”
Shortly afterward, the Chronicle asked her to write a second article defending herself from a swelling tide of criticism including a petition demanding her firing. It attracted more than 6,000 signatures before the Chronicle responded by dismissing her on Monday.
Editor Liz McMillen said that the writing didn’t meet the publication’s “standards for reporting and fairness,” and she also apologized to readers who may have felt “betrayed.”
Ms. Riley also endured rampant accusations of racism across the internet, with some branding her as a peddler of hate speech.
But her termination has generated its own backlash from those who believe an honest discussion about American race relations has again been pushed aside to ensure no one is offended.
“There was little reasoned argument, almost no attempt at factual refutation from these supposed defenders of free thought and lively exchange of ideas, but mainly name calling,” Mr. Stein said. “As always, the ultimate conversation stopper — ‘racist’ — was at the top of the list.”
Others have noted that the Chronicle, founded in 1966 and viewed as a leading authority on higher-education issues, should have handled Ms. Riley’s piece and the reaction to it much differently. Writing in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, Ms. Riley pointed out that her former employer at first “stood its ground,” keeping her on staff for a week after the piece was published.
But that position didn’t last long. In her statement, Ms. McMillen flatly, and uncharacteristically, admitted that the uproar played a role in Ms. Riley’s firing, telling angry readers “we’ve heard you.”