Time for a quick follow-up on Monday’s post about NYU Law School’s controversial decision to invite Dr. Li-ann Thio, an outspoken proponent of criminalizing gay sex, to teach a course on human rights in the fall. The post generated almost 300 comments, many of them quite thoughtful — like this one:
I am a gay man living in Singapore. I have lived in Asia (including Singapore) for over 15 years. So, I have firsthand knowledge of the discriminatory environment for gay men and lesbians living in Singapore.
I am not sure what the administrators of NYU Law School were thinking when they hired Dr. Thio to teach “human rights” in Asia. Asking a Singaporean tenured at a Singapore government-funded university to teach about human rights in Asia is like asking a Ku Klux Klan grandmaster to teach about racial equality. She will simply be a mouthpiece for the Singapore government’s positions on human rights issues. If Dr. Thio espoused views opposed to the Singapore government’s – trust me – she would not be teaching at the National University of Singapore. As everyone in the international human rights community knows, the Singapore government is not a “model” example for upholding human rights.
So Dr. Thio may not have been the best person in the galaxy to pick as a visiting professor of human rights. On the other hand, her views — definitely unorthodox in the American legal academy — could generate healthy and informative debate (like what we saw in our comments).
In our reader poll, which attracted over 3,000 votes, over 55 percent of you supported NYU’s decision to host Dr. Li-ann Thio. Not surprisingly, given the freewheeling, irreverent comments on this site, ATL readers are pro-free speech.
And so is the NYU OUTLaw Board, to its credit. In the wake of our coverage, the board issued a statement criticizing Li-ann Thio’s views, but simultaneously observing that it is “best to fight Dr. Thio’s offensive views not by silencing her but by engaging in a respectful and productive dialogue about the boundaries of human rights.”
The full OUTLaw statement — plus an adult-themed reader poll, by popular request — after the jump.
Academic freedom is a beautiful thing, essential to our nation’s celebrated system of higher education. And, to borrow the words of Dick Cheney on gay marriage, “freedom means freedom for everyone” — including people whose ideas we might not like, or even find repugnant.
How far should academic freedom extend? That’s an issue being faced right now at NYU Law School. The following message went out to the law student community last week:
We are writing on behalf of OUTLaw, NYU Law’s LGBT student group, to raise awareness of anti-gay statements made by a NYU visiting professor. Dr. Li-ann Thio, a professor at the National University of Singapore, will be teaching Human Rights Law in Asia during the Fall 2009 semester as a Global Visiting Professor of Law at NYU.
In 2007, the Singaporean Parliament was considering repealing 377A – the statute criminalizing consensual sex between men in Singapore. Dr. Thio, a Nominated Member of Parliament, gave a speech before Parliament arguing against the repeal. In her speech supporting the continued criminalization of “acts of gross indecency” between two males, she made such statements as, “You cannot make a human wrong a human right,” “Diversity is not a license for perversity,” and that anal sex is like “shoving a straw up your nose to drink” (http://theonlinecitizen.com/2007/10/377a-serves-public-morality-nmp-thio-li-ann). The efforts to repeal 377A failed, and consensual sex between men is still illegal in Singapore.
While respecting Dr. Thio’s right to her opinion and without questioning her teaching abilities, OUTLaw believes it is important for LGBT students and allies to be aware of her views in order to make fully informed decisions regarding class registration. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact the OUTLaw Board at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The videos are worth checking out (especially if you’re a high school debater wanting to relive your glory days). Dr. Thio speaks persuasively and with conviction, supporting her argument against gay sex with an impressively broad range of sources, from the Bible to Immanuel Kant to contemporary bloggers. One would expect nothing less from someone with her dazzling educational pedigree: a BA from Oxford, an LLM from Harvard Law School, and a PhD from Cambridge. Don’t call her Dr. TTThio!
Additional discussion, plus a reader poll, after the jump.
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