The laziest, and (thus) most popular, conservative critique of higher education involves listing a few course, discipline, paper, or lecture titles, remarking, to an audience of the converted, on how silly they are. There shall, of course, be no analysis of the content or rigor of the work itself. As the world's foremost expert in Conservative Criticisms of Academia Studies (no less than one of the Phi Beta Cons provided my credentials), I feel obliged to weigh in on the latest installment: Naomi Schaefer Riley's anti-Black-Studies ramblings in, and subsequent firing from, the Chronicle of Higher Ed.
It is telling, or unfortunate, or something, that the title of Riley's article was "The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations."** Given that no one reads dissertations, in Black Studies or any other field, except your committee, it would be one heck of a stretch to believe that a contrarian blogger sat down with a big stack of 'em and confronted each with an open mind before reading the thing cover to cover. What Riley did - and indeed all she herself claims she did - was read a sidebar summarizing recent dissertations in that field. But if she's allowed to comment on the quality of dissertations she has only read about, it seems a touch unfair for her to come down hard on readers who imagined - no doubt from the title of the piece, which she maybe didn't write - that she ought to have read them.
[T]there are not enough hours in the day or money in the world to get me to read a dissertation on historical black midwifery. In fact, I’d venture to say that fewer than 20 people in the whole world will read it. And the same holds true for the others that are mentioned in the piece.
Such is the state of academic research these days. The disciplines multiply. The publication topics become more and more irrelevant and partisan. No one reads them. And the people whom we expect to offer undergraduates a broad liberal-arts education (in return for billions of dollars from parents and taxpayers) never get trained to do so. Instead the ivory tower pushes them further and further into obscurity.