Anti-gay professor spares NYU, decides to stay home

activism, education, lgbt Add comments

Dr. Li-Ann ThioDr. Li-ann Thio, an anti-gay professor from the National University of Singapore, has decided not to accept an invitation to teach at NYU this fall, citing lack of enrollment in her classes and a hostile atmosphere. Many among the faculty and student body expressed outrage with the invitation over anti-gay remarks made by Dr. Thio while serving in the Singapore Parliament in 2007. Dean Richard L. Revesz, Law Dean at NYU, released a statement in response to Dr. Thio’s withdrawal.

I am writing to let you know that Professor Li-ann Thio informed me today that she is canceling her Fall visit to NYU Law School as a Global Visiting Professor as a result of the controversy surrounding her views regarding homosexuality and gay rights. She explained that she was disappointed by what she called the atmosphere of hostility by some members of our community towards her views and by the low enrollments in her classes. The Law School will therefore cancel the course on Human Rights in Asia and the seminar on Constitutionalism in Asia, which she had been scheduled to teach.

In the last few weeks, a number of members of our community wrote to Professor Thio indicating their objection to her appointment as a visiting professor. She considers some of these messages to be offensive. In turn, she replied to them in a manner that many member of our community—myself included—consider offensive and hurtful. These exchanges have been circulated on various blogs. Members of our community have questioned whether Professor Thio’s statements create an unwelcoming atmosphere, one in which students in her classes would have been unable to participate effectively in the learning experience. Determination of where that point is on the continuum of free speech is a difficult, case-by-case judgment based upon context, history of the relationship, and many other factors. But it would be an extraordinary measure, almost never taken by universities in the United States, to cancel a course on the basis of e-mail exchanges between a faculty member and members of the student body. To do so would eviscerate the concept of academic freedom and chill student-faculty debate.

The letter in full attempts to absolve the NYU of any responsibility, citing the invitation was extended under  standard academic practices, while at the same time remaining  sympathetic to those who were offended by her views. It’s a difficult to line to straddle, and it’s unclear how the faculty, student body and community will receive it.

Post by ILO on 07/24/09 at 12:17 pm