I don't really want to dwell further on the madness that is the Church of Higher Efficiency's* response to Naomi Schaefer Riley's anti-intellectual blog post dismissing all of Black Studies basically on the grounds that Schaefer Riley does not understand the titles of some dissertations. [background]
But I do want to note Amy Alexander's suggestion that cuts at UC and CSU should be the real target of outrage, as if there couldn't ever at any one time be more than one issue deserving of outrage.
As Gautam Premnath rightly pointed out, it's not as though the two issues are unrelated. "The crisis of public higher ed," Gautam observes, "has its roots in the contempt for scholarship you condone."
Schaefer Riley's MO—"check out these titles; aren't they obviously ridiculous? This entire discipline is clearly worthless!" is a very familiar one. Various mainstream publications trot out the ritual mocking of the MLA program every winter, as if a journalist's inability to understand the titles of talks in a specialized field proved something. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick describes how such tactics were taken up against (the title of a talk from) her work in her 1993 essay "Queer and Now." Anyone who knows scholarship knows that Sedgwick was a true thinker—careful, erudite, inventive, insightful. But you don't have to know anything to mock a title.
We're used to seeing such unrigorous hit jobs in the mainstream press, because the mainstream press is anti-intellectual. Amy Alexander has been defending the Church of Higher Efficiency's dubious decision to give NSR a blog (and, as Brian Leiter points out, this has been dubious for a very long time) on the basis that "CHE is a NewsOrg, not part of Academe." True enough. But if a paper purports to be the Chronicle of Higher Education, shouldn't it have a specialized knowledge of higher ed, or at least not be actively hostile to higher ed? Shouldn't ye olde MLA-season title-snarking be plain out of bounds for any higher-ed-related publication?
My sense is that a lot of academics feel ambivalent about the Church of Higher Efficiency—"it's a dreadful rag, but it's our dreadful rag." CHE is quite adamantly saying, "no, no, we're not your dreadful rag at all; we have no obligations to higher ed whatsoever." The Church of Higher Efficiency is thus taking the stance on scholarship that Amazon takes on books: you read it; it's a major part of your intellectual and personal life; it contains ideas? Great; whatever; to us it's a widget that we ship out of a warehouse in Tacoma. We are happy to ship you a coffeemaker as well; makes no difference to us. Pageviews, plz.
That's unfortunate, although I can't exactly weep over the Church of Higher Efficiency getting explicit about just how little it cares about higher ed per se. I mean, it's a dreadful rag (exception: the excellent Jen Howard). Rather, I want us all to make the connection that Gautam made, between these routine pot-shots at scholarship by journalists who proudly announce that they are not in a position to know what they are talking about and the kinds of sweeping policy changes that are currently leading to the effective dismantling of public higher ed in California and elsewhere. "Is college WORTH IT?" they ask. Not if you can make a career of announcing your lack of education and taking pot-shots at the educated, under the auspices of a periodical allegedly meant to serve the higher ed community, no less.
More public scholarship. Less Church of Higher Efficiency.
UPDATE 5/7: The Church of Higher Efficiency has apologized for its editorial oversights and dismissed NSR. Tressie McMillen Cottom deserves the internet equivalent of a standing ovation.
*"Church of Higher Efficiency": h/t Mark Sample.
Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. "Queer and Now." Tendencies. Durham: Duke UP, 1993. Print.