A follow-up to the NYU Law/Dr. Li-ann Thio drama: Apparently Dr. Thio has decided not to come and teach at NYU, citing hostility from students. I put in my two cents about Dr. Thio here. I actually think it’s good that NYU didn’t ask her to withdraw, and that instead students took the lead in voicing their concerns and refusing to enroll in her class. But the whole situation does bring up interesting issues of academic freedom and where we draw the line when it comes to bigoted viewpoints.
A good friend of mine, who also went to NYU Law, emailed me about the situation, and I found her perspsective pretty compelling. With her permission, it’s posted below:
So this rarely happens – and i should add that i don’t know much at ALL about this Dr. Thio character BUT- I think I disagree with you about your feelings on this.
I think this is a great point (from a petition in opposition): “To harbor Dr. Thio under the banner of “academic freedom” is disingenuous, untenable and unacceptable. The full dignity of LGBT persons is beyond debate and the criminalization of private sexual conduct between consenting same-sex adults is a tool of oppression. While Dr. Thio believes that “diversity is not a license for perversity,” we believe that academic freedom is not a license for bigotry.”
But I worry more about what it means to close the door to diverse viewpoints. I think there is something important to be said for her opinion not in the sense that it is “right” but in the sense that it represents an important social phenomenon. That people from politically, socially and economically repressed places oftentimes find scapegoats to dehumanize, criminalize, and humiliate. Maybe the purpose is to create a new kind of social hierarchy? In many cultures homophobia has become the last frontier of discrimination. People use gay people as a reason to perpetuate hate, but more importantly to continue to establish that there are “haves” and “have nots.”
I think I’m uncomfortable with saying this professor shouldn’t come to NYU less from a first-amendment free-speech standpoint and more from a concern that if liberal people silence the viewpoints of those they disagree with, where does that leave us? It seems contrary to so many liberal beliefs to advocate for the erasure of a particular viewpoint. I guess the argument can be made that we should not give Dr. Thio a forum to teach her ideas, and the recognition that would surely come with an NYU teaching position, but still it bothers me a bit that people haven’t looked to the larger implications of what it means to say that “we don’t like your viewpoint and you aren’t welcome here.” In any other context that would be so wrong.
I remember in undergrad we had this professor, Peter Singer, who — and in distilling this I’m going to pervert what he really stands for — has some really controversial views about the right to life, that some argue border on a kind of eugenics. I remember before his lecture, people stood outside his class and protested and were disgusted that this person had a forum to express his views that are so contrary to the value and dignity that all persons deserve. I remember thinking how much I hated his ideas but that he had the right to possess them and to teach. I didn’t take his class, nor would I take Dr. Thio’s.
None of this is to excuse her views or to say in any way that they are “right” or justified (as maybe one of the paragraphs above might suggest). I’m more just worried now, and always have been, about the way liberals (and particularly trendy New York liberals who chant from ivory towers and penthouses about justice and equality yet do so many things within their own personal day-to-day lives that reinforces, albeit, a different form of haves and have nots) are quick to cast-aside and condemn views (that are clearly wrong, and even morally reprehensible) but also different from their own. It just seems to me that this is maybe the wrong or a misplaced battle to fight.