NUS: Stepping Forward or Backwards on Contentious Gay and Religious Views?
There is always this shifting line on what is acceptable or unacceptable speech, masquerading as academic freedom some might argue. Did AP Syed Muhd Khairudin Aljunied have the right to link LGBT lifestyles as cancer in his personal views based on religious experiences? Yes he did, unless his views bordered on the criminal. He should have the freedom to insult, as long as he understands the door swings hard both ways.
The AP should have the space to say what he wants to his benefit or detriment, and he can shoot himself in the foot or shoot himself to the stars with his intellect or conviction either way depending on his audience.
NUS should not have stepped in, or if they did have to for whatever reason to appease a lobby and not tarnish its image in its Yale-NUS venture, stepped in privately to advise the AP. If an academic refreshingly wants to be blunt and non-politically correct publicly in his personal views, all the better. His NUS colleagues who disagree with his views can equally blunt towards his views and be public about them in their personal capacities
To maintain credibility, NUS must respect academic freedom
From Lam Jer-Gen – March 8
Having studied at a local university, I have observed that students and even professors faced intimidation and retaliation when they attempted to discuss issues such as homosexuality.
Those holding and expressing conservative views were often ridiculed as ignorant or homophobic and subject to religiously offensive comments, while those who made such comments received no sanction.
I am thus disappointed with the National University of Singapore’s stance towards Associate Professor Syed Muhd Khairudin Aljunied. (“NUS professor acknowledges ‘poor judgment’ in posts on sexuality”; March 6)
Homosexuality is a contentious issue and it is important that we respect academic freedom when debating this matter. NUS’ restriction on academic freedom by censuring Assoc Prof Khairudin is antithetical to our development as a society, which depends on robust debate and critical inquiry.
NUS should rethink its policies if it sees itself as a respectable university in Asia and the world.
Varsities should cherish freedom to air opposing views
From Chong Ja Ian – March 10
I am unclear as to how current discussions about Associate Professor Syed Muhd Khairudin’s Facebook comments pertain to academic freedom (“To maintain credibility, NUS must respect academic freedom” and “NUS should have protected rights of professor to express his views”; March 8).
Academic freedom is the ability to convey ideas in the pursuit of inquiry and debate in institutions of learning without fear of repression. This includes acknowledging that others can express critical opposing positions in response to a statement. Such principles are important to education and advancing knowledge, and should be accorded regardless of ethnicity, language, religion, ideology — or sexual orientation.
Academic freedom is not freedom from criticism, pressure or even censure. These are not instances of repression insofar as they do not aim to silence. Exercising academic freedom is subjecting ideas to tougher scrutiny, inviting counter-arguments and accepting the possibility of being wrong. Articulating ideas that can be offensive or insulting means giving as much leeway to others in their rebuttals and offering responses if necessary. Observers can evaluate the merits of various arguments for themselves.
Another element of academic freedom is ensuring that conditions which permit argument — even heated ones — exist. Individuals should be confident that they can articulate ideas and invite different reactions freely, especially from members of minority and marginalised groups, who tend to have fewer opportunities to make their voices heard.
Mainstream and majority positions need to be subject to critical examination as much as minority ones. Words and actions contrary to such exchanges erode academic freedom, particularly if imposed from positions of authority. Students must feel safe enough to voice different views in the classroom and have them challenged; academics need to work with critical responses while putting forward ideas in the course of teaching and research.
The NUS Provost’s letter (“NUS professor acknowledges ‘poor judgment’ in posts on sexuality”; March 6), did not impinge on academic freedom and neither did the original petition. Neither document asked Assoc Prof Khairudin to recant his beliefs, nor was there a need to do so.
The issue was the application of the terms “cancer”, “social disease” and “cleanse” to particular groups. This gives the impression that these groups and their members have no place in society, a claim few would extend to other minorities in Singapore. Assoc Prof Khairudin later removed these words from his post without having to change the premises of his comments or apologise.
Nonetheless, aspects of the conversation over his online comments are encouraging for academic freedom and freedom of expression generally. They demonstrate Singaporeans’ growing collective ability to argue passionately over contentious issues without affecting our social fabric. The minority are able to air their views despite challenges. I hope that these steps forward will continue.
The author is Assistant Professor of political science at the National University of Singapore. These comments are made in his personal capacity.