higher ed

Anti-Gay Singapore Prof Li-Ann Thio Won’t Be Coming to NYU. So, That’s Good?


Surely the New York University community was saddened this week to learn Dr. Li-ann Thio, of the National University of Singapore, was canceling her plans to teach there this fall. Or not: She was a giant bigot.

The coming arrival of Thio on NYU’s law school campus set off a firestorm of backlash. Students demanded to know why the university, with their tuition dollars, was paying for a so-called humanitarian hero to teach them when she also stood by Singapore’s laws that makes it a crime for two men to have sex with each other.

Amidst the furor, Thio wrote the entire NYU Faculty with an 18-point argument about why she should be welcomed on campus. Among her reasons:

My objection is not to gay people; it is towards the nature of the homosexual political agenda and the vicious and degrading tactics of some activists. I say “some” because there were gays in Singapore who (a) agree that homosexuality should not be mainstreamed or coercively taught as having moral equivalence with heterosexuality as a social norm) (b) disagree with me but reject the tactics of insult and death threats.

In her correspondence, she added: “If the NYU law community is unable to welcome me because of my convictions, they should say so. I am sure many faculty members are doing some soul-searching, perhaps regretting their original invitation. I am not naive.”

Nor is she coming. Dr. Thio has rescinded her acceptance to NYU’s invitation.

And: It seems, the NYU law community is saying so. Sort of. Dean Richard Revesz, who initially defended inviting the doc, has offered this for-and-against question-and-answer letter, which addresses things like academic freedom and human rights, without actually saying whether inviting Thio was one giant mistake.

Should an academic opposed to the recognition of certain important human rights be allowed to teach a human rights course?

An academic’s views on a substantive issue should be irrelevant to his or her suitability to teach a course in a particular area as long as the opposing views are treated fairly in the classroom: A proponent or opponent of the death penalty can be equally qualified to lead a seminar on capital punishment, for example. The contrary position would be a serious affront to academic freedom, would lead to endless political litmus tests, and would greatly impoverish academic institutions, which gain so much from the robust discussion of controversial legal issues.

What say you?