9.5.12

UNIVERSITIES ARE FAILING AT THEIR MISSION.

The house organ for Business as Usual in Higher Education invites journalist Naomi Schafer Riley to participate in their Brainstorm forum, and she says some unkind things about area studies dissertations,  and the Perpetually Aggrieved do what they perpetually do, so the editor continues Business as Usual in the expected way.  Constructive self-criticism is collegial these days.
Since Brainstorm was created five years ago, we have sought out bloggers representing a range of intellectual and political views, and we have allowed them broad freedom in topics and approach.  As part of that freedom, Brainstorm writers were able to post independently; Ms. Riley’s post was not reviewed until after it was posted.

I realize we have made mistakes. We will thoroughly review our editorial practices on Brainstorm and other blogs and strengthen our guidelines for bloggers.
Long Live Comrade Stalin.

Minding the Campus has a list of recommended readings, from a variety of perspectives, on the post and the subsequent reaction.

Peter Wood, who holds the title of Most Favorite Administrator at Cold Spring Shops, has not yet been purged from the Innovations forum, but he's clearly showing sectarian and deviationist tendencies.  (Sorry, that doesn't sound so good in English.  There's a reason the murderer in Crime and Punishment is named Raskolnikov.)
So why did Riley’s opinion arouse such fury? It fell within the category of unspeakable observations in higher education—unspeakable because to voice them is almost certain to provoke outrage. The outrage is all the hotter because many people share Riley’s view that “black studies” and its variants are intellectually shallow and academically superfluous. To criticize, let alone mock, fields like this touches on higher education’s troubled conscience.

And higher education’s conscience is troubled because of the history behind such fields. Their rise owes less to signal intellectual accomplishments than to university administrators seeking to appease vocal constituencies. We have a collective pretense that the fields (black studies being the preeminent example) that combine identity group solidarity, a program of social change, and a fair amount of advocacy are “real” academic disciplines. It is impolite to call such pretenses into question because doing so unsettles some of the tacit agreements that undergird identity politics in American higher education.
Political correctness contributing to the failure of higher education? Where did we hear that first?

But the people calling for Ms Riley to be purged and exiled do a more effective job of illustrating those failings.  Poet Gina Barreca, hoping not to have to provide a Creative Response to Just Criticism, offers an uncreative response whose ending disclaimer fails to impress Benjamin Plotinsky, who has a real Ph.D. from a real university.
What I can say is that, as poetry, it’s an embarrassing failure — the work of a writer who doesn’t understand the first thing about verse, comic or not. The first stanza is a badly scanning limerick. The second and third stanzas abruptly change the meter and rhyme scheme to something resembling Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark. The final stanza shifts abruptly again: It’s a quatrain with an AABB rhyme scheme and four lines of anapestic tetrameter. The one formal characteristic that unites the poem is how badly it scans throughout; I’d call your particular attention to the lines beginning “Where no one paid her” and “Poor NSR chewed off,” both of which utterly fail to be the anapestic trimeter that they’re supposed to be.
I suppose, though, that because his reaction is in National Review, it can be dismissed as so much bourgeois formalism.  So too must it be with The Wall Street Journal, which has called the house organ of Business as Usual the Comical of Higher Education.
That last sentence encapsulates the intellectual corruption of academia, a profession that ought to encourage intellectual adventurousness, not pander to those who are unable to withstand the "distress" of having their ideas challenged. But we've been irremediably cynical about academia since our undergraduate days. In our own field of journalism, however, we still recoil at a display of perfidy.

It is sometimes a useful exercise to take the things that people say at face value, especially when that is counter to their intended construction. Let's apply that technique to McMillen's post from last night.

According to McMillen--whose bio informs us she has been with the Chronicle for over a decade and has been its top editor for nine months--she was ignorant of the publication's "basic editorial standards" until a thousands-strong mob set her straight in the course of seeking to silence one of her writers.
Subsequently,the Journal goes after The Cravenness of Higher Education.
It is hard not to note the context in which Ms. McMillen dismissed Naomi Riley for committing speech.  Now more than ever, too many college graduates discover that their expensive higher educations send them into a modern workplace with skills that few employers want or need.  The graduates sit home, unemployed and unemployable.  Meanwhile, back inside the school walls, the Chronicle of Higher Education stands ready to eliminate any writer who causes distress to the modern generation of scholars who teach these students.
I invite the Journal's recruiting team to one of our job fairs.  Perhaps they're paying too much attention to the culture wars in the Ivies, and a visit to the land-grants and the mid-majors might counteract the daily running of the Occupy gauntlet of spoiled kids that is coloring their attitudes.

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