Dr. Li-ann "Anal sex is like shoving a straw up your nose to drink" Thio, a professor at the National University of Singapore and Global Visiting Professor of Law set to teach human rights at NYU, according to the administration, has decided not to accept the visitorship.
Thio changed her mind about teaching at New York University because:
the atmosphere of hostility by some members of our community towards her views and by the low enrollments in her classes.
It looks like being called out for being a human right's abuser who was tapped to teach human rights just didn't sit well with Dr. Thio.
As a refresher, Thio actively advocated against the repeal of a law, Section 377A, that criminalizes sex between men, saying:
repealing 377A is the first step of a radical, political agenda which will subvert social morality, the common good and undermine our liberties.
Diversity is not a license for perversity.
That's some human right's expert...
But her selection in the first place, and the ensuing defense of Thio by the administration under the guise of "academic freedom", raises even more questions.
Academic Freedom Should Be Based on Academic Thought
I am a strong proponent for academic freedom.
Diverse views, even unsavory ones, make for a richer experience. It can help students and the academic community in general have greater debate and challenge ideas. That is only true, however, if the ideas and views being expressed have a basis in academic reasoning and reality in general.
Which makes Law School Dean Richard L. Revesz's excuse for inviting and sticking by Thio problematic to say the least:
Whatever their areas of expertise or views, the appointments of global visiting professors are decided on their record of distinguished scholarship and teaching and their ability to contribute to intellectual exchange within our community.
Dr. Thio's arguments against basic human rights for gay people are all based in religious bigotry and personal distaste, not academic thought or reasoning. She doesn't bring substantive or valid reasons for her views against human rights for gays, just personal bias. The only reason they are given weight is because of her position as a professor, not because they are academic in nature.
As Ryan Golden, one of the law student's at NYU (who was quoted in the New York Times and started the petition about Thio), said in an email to me:
This is not an issue of academic freedom because Thio took actions in the Parliament of Singapore that oppressed the LGBT community. Many students and alumni of NYU consider her a human rights violator, and we believe national human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch would agree. By inviting her to NYU, the administration provided a human rights violator with tacit approval by a United States university that her views are within the bounds of academic freedom.
We do not believe NYU would have considered her actions to be within the bounds of academic freedom if they had the effect of oppressing racial or religious minorities.
While NYU has historically been at the forefront of the LGBT rights movement, many of us are concerned that the law school treated this situation in a manner that is a step backwards. We are concerned how it will affect recruiting of LGBT students, and we are concerned how it will affect financial support from alumni.
Finally, while the Dean stated that "the value of the global program would be diminished if the visiting scholars all thought of difficult legal issues--including issues of sexual morality--in the same way," we cannot comprehend what value there is in inviting a human rights violator to teach a course in human rights.
He stated "We can learn from these visitors, and--we hope--they can learn from us." I take issue with his statement that we can learn from a professor like Thio. For one, he is not a student, and as a student I have no desire to debate with a professor who believes that LGBT individuals do not deserve human rights because their mere existence is a moral wrong. The human rights academic community is long past this debate.
Thio is on record stating she spoke to God and is on a mission to save the world. In fact, in her recent book called "Mind The Gap", she likens gays to the anti-christ and armageddon.
Perhaps if Thio was being tapped to be a theology professor instead of a human rights professor, she might have a place in the discussion since her views are theological in nature. But being a anti-human rights advocate based on non-academic thought should preclude her from teaching this subject at NYU.
Would they invite someone who actively worked to oppress and criminalize another minority under the guise of "academic freedom"? Most likely not.
The administration is making a mistake backing her up and standing by someone so obviously unqualified to teach the subject she was tapped for.
Should Candidates be Screened Better?
Which leads to the problem of screening of prospective visiting professors. This would have never been an issue if the administration had done due diligence in looking at her very public body of work: her speeches, political career, and books.
Again, the Dean has a very telling answer:
At the time that Global Appointments Committee met in December 2007 to recommend that the faculty vote a visiting appointment to Professor Thio based on her teaching and scholarship, none of its members were aware of the speech. That recommendation was considered by the tenured and tenure-track faculty at its meeting of January 30, 2008. I was not aware of her speech at that time and don't believe that any of my colleagues were aware of it either.
Of course, an electronic search of her public statements would have produced the text of the speech. We did not conduct such a search in considering this appointment, and we have not conducted such searches in considering other appointments.
A quick google search of Thio should have raised huge red flags about the appropriateness of her as a choice to teach human rights. Her actions in the realm of human rights is absolutely knowledge the committee should have considered when deciding whether to invite her.
A Discussion Worth Having
I hope this controversy starts a real discussion at NYU and at schools around the country. NYU has said they will be holding debates on the subject when the term begins. Perhaps something good can come from this.
One thing is clear: Human Rights are serious. Criminalizing minority groups are lessons of warning that should be taught...
Just not by the person doing the criminalizing.