Freedom of Speech, Not Freedom from Consequences...

There are a few broad areas of discussion that have arisen so often on this page that posts on these topics have come to feature under general, recurring titles. Adventures in Supply and Demand and Economics for Lawyers (aka Dummies) quickly come to mind. In what is unfortunately becoming a topic with as many opportunities for discussion as supply and demand, I turn once again to someone facing adverse consequences for the free exercise of speech.

Ms. Naomi Schaefer Riley of The Chronicle of Higher Education caused a stir recently when she declared Black Studies to be a useless major/area of study. Her evidence? From her original article:

You’ll have to forgive the lateness but I just got around to reading The Chronicle’s recent piece on the young guns of black studies. If ever there were a case for eliminating the discipline, the sidebar explaining some of the dissertations being offered by the best and the brightest of black-studies graduate students has made it. What 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.

After Shaefer Riley faced varying levels of support and reprobation in the comments section of that article, she wrote 'A Response to Critics' which can be found here. After it published that post, The Chronicle let her go, apparently due to the firestorm she caused rather than the content of her actual posts:

'When we published Naomi Schaefer Riley’s blog posting on Brainstorm last week…several thousand of you spoke out in outrage and disappointment that The Chronicle had published an article that did not conform to the journalistic standards and civil tone that you expect from us. We now agree that Ms. Riley’s blog posting did not meet The Chronicle’s basic editorial standards for reporting and fairness in opinion articles. As a result, we have asked Ms. Riley to leave the Brainstorm blog.'

There are a lot of topics for discussion here, but the one I would like to focus on is the title of this post. One may or may not agree with Ms. Shaefer Riley's comments. Some might quibble with The Chronicle's displeasure only manifesting itself after it was barraged by the ensuing public outcry. However it is hard to argue with her erstwhile employer's right to dismiss her after she created a reputational risk issue for The Chronicle. Like Ozzie Guillen before her, Shaefer Riley is facing the piper for her actions.

Any of our readers who think she got a raw deal may find some consolation in knowing that she is also an affiliate scholar with the Institute for American Values; presumably those who read her efforts published through that outfit will be a bit more amenable to some of her views. However, for now, she is another example of the truism that freedom of speech is most certainly not freedom from consequences.  


  1. Anonymous15/5/12 13:20

    I do think it is unfortunate that people respond to criticism, not by engaging it, but by declaring it "insensitive" or "offensive." While her views are no doubt offensive, they are not those of a tiny minority, but a growing voice that criticizes the critical race studies as a discipline. Rather than engaging that argument, people declare it illegitimate, label those its proponents as insensitive at best or racist at worst, and resist discussion.

    That method wins small victories, as here. But it is a losing strategy. Failing to respond with a reasoned defense of critical race studies (of which black studies is a component) only leads more people to conclude that there isn't one.

  2. Thanks for stopping by, I appreciate the excellent point...it is one I have made in the past, but didn't take the opportunity to address fully in this post.

    It is unfortunate that neither The Chronicle nor its readership saw this as an opportunity for civil dialogue on a topic whose presence in the spotlight will only likely increase. Yes, it is controversial, but declining to address a topic which is clearly of interest to the academic community right now is an oppportunity lost.

    I am not sure of The Chronicle's business model, whether it depends on advertising, government or private grants, or subscriptions. However, I am guessing that its staff doesn't work for free. Therefore, any attention which puts revenue in jeopardy is likely seen as an extraordinary threat by its editors.

    Blawgconomics doesn't have a large enough readership to cause controversy on a regular basis, but if we ever did, I can assure you that it is something we would opportunistically embrace. After all, what better way to stimulate the national discussion than by participating in it vigorously?

    However, 'Blawgconomics' is most often just yours truly, and no one depends on me for a job. Pure journalistic independence, unburdened by the pecuniary shackles of remuneration from advertising or otherwise, is a benefit (albeit one with a clear downside as much of my time is spent doing 'real jobs' to support myself rather than producing content) I value. Alas, so is life as a smalltime blogger...