Opinion Blog


Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

The CHE's Craven Blow Against Honest Speech

By Rick Hess — May 09, 2012 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Last week, the Chronicle of Higher Education blogger Naomi Schaefer Riley posted a tough, skewering (dare we say “mean-spirited”) item blasting what she sees as a lack of academic rigor in black studies departments (hardly an earth-shattering observation, given that similar complaints have been made about all sorts of race and gender studies programs). For her trouble, on Monday she was fired from her gig as a paid columnist for the Chronicle. Given that the Chronicle is routinely filled with enthusiastic defenses of ethnic studies and casual attacks on “conservatives,” you’d think they’d welcome the occasional touch of intellectual diversity. Turns out, not so much.

Riley’s prose was hard-hitting but certainly no more so than so many of the jeremiads I’ve read in CHE and other K-12 and higher ed outlets about idiotic conservative policymakers, heteronormative bigots, and all the rest. Riley wrote that “some of the dissertations being offered by the best and the brightest of black-studies graduate students” are “a collection of left-wing victimization claptrap. The best that can be said of these topics is that they’re so irrelevant no one will ever look at them.” This is certainly tough stuff, but hardly beyond the pale.

Nonetheless, Riley’s critics weren’t content merely to denounce her as racist and sexist. Instead, they immediately sought to deny her a perch and to silence her voice. Within days, critics were circulating a petition with more than 6,000 signatures calling on the Chronicle to fire her. They succeeded, of course. Abby Schachter noted in the New York Post that “multiple responses on the Chronicle of Higher Education have called her a bigoted racist for deigning to ‘beat up on’ a bunch of ‘poor’ graduate students.” Even my friend Sara Goldrick-Rab, a University of Wisconsin professor with an acerbic tone, and someone who I would usually expect to stand as a supporter of free speech in the world of higher education, flatly dismissed Riley’s prose as “emotion-laden spewing, a venomous disdainful piece directed at young women scholars of color.” Indeed, Goldrick-Rab even suggests that Riley’s critique was “libelous.”

Ahh, now we get to it. When University of Wisconsin faculty were denouncing Governor Scott Walker as “Nazi” and a “fascist,” in blogs, online forums, and on signs, I don’t recall anyone suggesting they were behaving in a libelous manner. Indeed, I remember the higher education community issuing hearty paeans to free speech. When Occupy Wall Street was disrupting campuses while hurling invective at businesspeople and conservatives, I mostly recall the media showering them with warm attention. I don’t recall many faculty fretting about libel. Indeed, I mostly remember enthusiastic support.

Indeed, I get puzzled by the double-standards. When the National Council of Professors of Educational Administration published a refereed article by Fenwick English naming the “ten most wanted enemies” of public education, I couldn’t rouse a single academic to express even modest concern--much less circulate an angry petition. Authors like Kevin Kumashiro and Michael Apple casually charge “right-wing think tanks” with seeking to destroy public education. Think tanks like AEI (my own modest abode) are attacked in scholarly outlets as right-wing, fascist, bastions of oppression and dubious scholarship. Strikes me that all this is an even more virulent version of what Riley is accused of. After all, it’s a broad, typically unsupported characterization of people, their work, and their organizational home based, primarily, on anecdote and visceral reactions. And yet I hear not a word of outrage and nothing about libel. Indeed, such accounts are routinely cheered in academic circles.

So, here we are. CHE‘s one regular “conservative” contributor has penned an acerbic take on race- and gender-based academic programs. Some of us (though perhaps few in an academy that claims to prize diversity of thought) think Riley’s criticisms ring true. And yet, her mere blogging provoked a concerted (and successful) effort to silence her. Riley’s husband, Wall Street Journal editorial writer Jason Riley, may have put it best, writing, “The Chronicle has fired Naomi. The mob rules.” I find it hard to take seriously scholarly concerns for academic freedom when its practitioners move so quickly and aggressively to silence those with whom they disagree.

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP
Education Massachusetts National Guard to Help With Busing Students to School
250 guard personnel will be available to serve as drivers of school transport vans, as districts nationwide struggle to hire enough drivers.
1 min read
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass. Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, activated the state's National Guard to help with busing students to school as districts across the country struggle to hire enough drivers.
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass.
Michael Dwyer/AP
Education FDA: ‘Very, Very Hopeful’ COVID Shots Will Be Ready for Younger Kids This Year
Dr. Peter Marks said he is hopeful that COVID-19 vaccinations for 5- to 11-year-olds will be underway by year’s end. Maybe sooner.
4 min read
Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research in the Food and Drug Administration, testifies during a Senate health, education, labor, and pensions hearing to examine an update from federal officials on efforts to combat COVID-19 on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 11, 2021. On Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, Marks urged parents to be patient, saying the agency will rapidly evaluate vaccines for 5- to 11-year-olds as soon as it gets the needed data.
Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research in the Food and Drug Administration, testifies during a Senate health, education, labor, and pensions hearing to examine an update from federal officials on efforts to combat COVID-19 on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 11, 2021.
Jim Lo Scalzo/AP