Subsequent Letters to the Editor regarding article in Chronicle of Higher Education, 15 December
2000: "Black Studies, Black Professors, and the Struggles of
Letter from Nell Painter enclosing
Letter from Ronald Jeremiah Schindler
Letter from Ely A. Dorsey
The Chronicle of Higher Education
January 26, 2001
The Battle Continues for Black Academics
To the Editor:
The enclosed letter came to me in an envelope with no return
address. I thought your readers might be interested in seeing a specimen
of the sort of mail I referred to in "Black Studies, Black Professors,
and the Struggles of Perception" (The Review, December 15).
I don't claim that every lecture I've given in the last
quarter century has succeeded. Sometimes they fall short because I'm just
starting out on a project and my thoughts aren't yet tidy, or because
the sponsors don't like what I have to say. Few of us, even experienced
lecturers, can please all the people all of the time.
However, some of my colleagues may be surprised to see
how people convey their displeasure when the senior professor is a black
woman. Anonymous mail like this belongs in the category of harassment
I mentioned in my article.
Nell Irvin Painter
Professor of American History
Dear Professor Painter:
This is feedback from the provinces and we hope you will
take it to heart.
Several of us at Old Dominion University found disingenuous
your recent Chronicle of Higher Education opinion piece entitled "Black
Studies, Black Professors, and the Struggles of Perception." Our
attention focused upon your statement that "the widespread American
assumption that black people are not intellectual affects everyone in
higher education who is black or who does black studies."
The problem is that your public presentation here at Old
Dominion several years ago did nothing to dispel that notion. Indeed,
your presentation was laughably inadequate and, by consensus, absolutely
the worst of more than 80 presentations that have been given in this institution's
President's Lecture Series. It was embarrassingly devoid of content and
was badly disorganized. It was a banner ad for the antithesis of what
you wish to demonstrate and made you the subject of disparaging jokes
for months thereafter.
The blunt truth is that considerable damage was done to
your Chronicle thesis and your reputation by your presentation here. Some
300 individuals left the room believing either that you were intellectually
a lightweight, or that you simply did not care. Given your past writings,
we're inclined to the latter explanation, all the more so because of your
other cavalier behaviors during your visit here.
Reputations are made (and kept) by excellent, rigorous
work. You fell far short of that standard at this university. All the
Chronicle opinion pieces in the world will not alter that reality. The
next time you agree to speak, treat the invitation more seriously.
Several Old Dominion University Faculty
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Chronicle of Higher Education
From the issue dated January 26,
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
The Evolution of Black Studies
To the Editor:
Nell Irvin Painter's fundamental claim is that white
folk perceive black academics as "not intellectual" ("Black
Studies, Black Professors, and the Struggles of Perception,"
The Review, December 15). Dr. Painter provides no empirical data to substantiate
her accusation; in fact, she says it is anecdotal. Anecdotes are not scientific;
they are no more than working hypotheses, if not gossip, that must be
tested with control groups.
I can speak only for myself. I perceive blacks as engaged
-- reasonably so -- in a power struggle to control public policy at universities,
particularly at the state level. Black activists do so through the instrument
of affirmative action. That was a good stratagem in the 60's, when there
was a surplus of jobs. Now, academia is driven by an oversupply of Ph.D.'s,
and grossly political factors override academic qualifications. ...
I contend that administrators and liberal faculty members
are socializing a host of populations into a sense of victimhood that
belies the social reality that there is juridical equality of all according
to the Constitution. Too, I believe that most Americans ... act according
to their best moral instincts, steeped as we are in a Judeo-Christian
ethos of love. I argue for a reversion to a universal standard of fairness,
where the measure of an individual is his empirically definable accomplishments.
What Dr. Painter has unintentionally proposed is the trafficking
in human beings as commodities by designating color as the criterion of
merit -- instituting new forms of slavery, apartheid, and intellectual
dogmatism. In the past 30 years, the two races have never been farther
apart than now because ideology has replaced the disinterested pursuit
of truth and the establishment of uniform standards, under which no one
group can claim special entitlements.
Ronald Jeremiah Schindler
Elkins Park, Pa.
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To the Editor:
Nell Painter points to the dilemma faced by black scholars
in pursuing the validation of their craft in black studies. ... I would
like to expand her reasoning to include black scholars in any discipline
in the academy. ...
Succinctly, there isn't one predominantly white institution
of higher learning in the United States where black scholars aren't catching
hell. Just as we thought things were getting better, it seems as if a
wave of racist madness has swept over the academy. Everywhere we hear
similar laments of black scholars who are harassed, denied tenure and
promotion, assigned nonchallenging courses, subjected to a higher level
of intellectual scrutiny than their white colleagues, and clearly paid
less for comparable work. ... African-American institutions of higher
learning offer no safe haven. ...
Surely, we can do better than this. Maybe it's time to
admit that whiteness is no longer a viable cultural form for human beings
Ely A. Dorsey
Institute for the Study of Industrial Systems and Technology Management
Associate Professor of Management
Bridgewater State College
Section: The Chronicle Review
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