There’s a storm raging in the blogosphere over the recent firing of Naomi Schaefer Riley from the Brainstorm blog of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Her offense? Suggesting that Black Studies programs are “a collection of left-wing victimization claptrap,” and offering some pointed examples.We’ll leave the debate over whether Riley’s dismissal was a legitimate response to over-the-line assertions or an exercise in political correctness to others. (You can read Riley’s take in the Wall Street Journal.) From Via Meadia‘s vantage point, meanwhile, the crux of the matter is somewhat different: not frankly having devoted a great deal of time to reading unpublished PhD dissertations gathering dust in the recesses of the nation’s university libraries, we are unable to state that there is more claptrap in Black Studies than in other disciplines. The impression here is that there is a lot of claptrap, leftie and otherwise, in academia as a whole, and that any Black Studies claptrap has to be seen in the context of so much claptrap in so many disciplines.At Via Meadia in other words, we aren’t worried about why Black Studies is different from other disciplines; we are worried about the degree to which it is the same. And we are less worried that so much academic work is given over to lazy left wing platitudes and conventional tropes than we are worried about the plodding, repetitive and unreflective mindset behind so much of what the academy churns out. Because they are so easily reproduced and so widely acceptable, silly leftie platitudes and conventional victimization tropes are a common manifestation of plodding minds, conventional academic group think and mediocre educations today, but they are not the only form that rampant mediocrity takes.After all, much of the “research” published in peer reviewed journals is not even getting read and is written less for the joy of learning and the enlightenment of humanity than because some poor underpaid junior academic hack somewhere has to fill an arbitrary publication quota to keep his or her job. Meanwhile, as the academy overproduces worthless “research”, it often fails to help both graduate and undergraduate students develop the habits and acquire the knowledge they need to tackle the real world and its economy. And the cost of whole enterprise has reached unsustainable levels.As the country’s economic woes continue and our education system comes under greater scrutiny, academics in the humanities and the social sciences face very skeptical and tough questions from politicians and tuition payers about the work that they do. And we suspect that many disciplines and departments are going to be unpleasantly surprised at how little sympathy and understanding they get when the crunch comes. It is all too easy to imagine the reaction of state legislatures around the country to hearings that look into the various clueless dissertations and worthless social science and humanities “research” that taxpayer dollars are funding.The prevalence of leftie claptrap and cliche will help sink funding for many disciplines, but so too will evidence about how infrequently most journal articles are cited, how few are read even by ones colleagues, and how narrow or recondite the topics of so much contemporary research turns out to be.As a concept, Via Meadia likes Black Studies and considers it a perfectly valid element of a liberal education and university faculty. The African American experience in the United States is a rich and profound one, and it merits close study and deep reflection. Forget the pious conventional narratives about Sojourner Truth and Martin Luther King that elementary students across the country are bored with in classes today. For almost four centuries now African-Americans have lived where the rubber meets the road in American life, where ideals of equality and brotherhood run up against realities of prejudice and culture. The results have sometimes been horrifying and sometimes inspiring. The many responses of African American intellectuals, cultural figures and ordinary people to the challenging and complicated circumstances around them illuminate American history, bear witness to the crucible that shaped an extraordinary group of people, and speak to universal human truths so profoundly that our society would be greatly impoverished if we did not ponder and cherish this history.To study this legacy in a disciplined way and to teach this history to new generations is a perfectly reasonable thing for a university to encourage; some institutions might do this by grouping these courses into a separate department and others might integrate them into the work of different programs, but no serious American institution can turn its back on this subject completely. The trick is that Black Studies, like all other forms of serious intellectual work, has to be done well, it has to tolerate and even encourage a wide range of political perspectives and it has to be done critically rather than as a form of boosterism.The threat Black Studies faces today is the same that many disciplines in the humanities face. The combination of mediocrity and group think on the inside of the profession combined with an age of tight budgets will force all the humanities and social sciences to defend their programs and their subsidies before a skeptical public. It will do no good for the professoriate to get all huffy and denounce the skeptics as barbarians, bigots and know-nothings. Insulting your patrons is no way to get them to cover your costs.The Chronicle of Higher Education can bow to the prevailing winds and fire Naomi Riley, but it cannot shelter its readers from the coming storm. Academics, and not just those in Black Studies, need to listen to voices like hers; the questions that Riley asked on her blog are the kind that, increasingly, trustees and state budget officials are going to ask.