Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Now there is a petition to NYU protesting her scheduled visit this fall. As a political tactic, designed to help stamp out anti-gay bigory, it's plainly a sensible move, but in its explicit content it is wrong, and dangerously wrong. The petition states:
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.
Actiually, "academic freedom" is, among many other things, a "license for bigotry," and there is nothing remotely "disingenous" about Dean Revesz mentioning academic freedom in the context of objections to her visit. Academic freedom is a 'license' for scholars to defend whatever views they think can be defended with the scholarly resources at their behest. Even if their arguments are deemed pathetically stupid, it is part of academic freedom to permit them this stupidity: if "pathetic stupidity" were enought to rescind a visiting offer, there would be almost no visiting professors anywhere! (Have the petition signatories talked to any academics, one wonders?) If NYU invited Dr. Thio based on her scholarship and teaching in the area of human rights, then it would be a shocking violation of academic freedom to rescind her appointment because she is a bigot. Academic freedom protects John Yoo, and it protect Li-ann Thio.
The real problem, I suspect, is that the Hauser Global Law program at NYU, besides underpaying its faculty and overplaying their contribution to NYU (but this is the school of Sextonian hyperbole, after all), has extremely lax standards for inviting visitors. This is notorious in the legal academy, and this incident simply advertises the fact to the world. NYU manages to get many genuinely outstanding legal academics in its Global Law program, but mostly overseas faculty are invited without much intellectual oversight. I suspect the PR fiasco involving Dr. Thio will change this.
UPDATE: Apparently, Profesor Thio has withdrawn from the visit, in the wake of various abusive e-mails and low enrollments for her courses. Dean Revesz has issued a quite sensible memo on the whole affair which is available here.
ONE MORE: A colleague at NYU takes issue with my last paragraph, above, about the Hauser Global Law program:
[Your] statement does not resonate with my experience in the time I have been at NYU. Prior to that, I had assumed that many of the Global claims were largely the kind of puffery you routinely attribute to the school. I was genuinely surprised when I visited here at the extent to which the international program was integrated into the core intellectual life of the faculty. The people who have come since I have been here have been a real presence in the institution. I have taught with Hauser visitors, appeared in many class and colloquia settings with them, and have profited from the program. Many of my foreign lectures bring me into contact with people I first met in the program here. In turn, I have strongly encouraged invitations to impressive scholars that I first met abroad.
It is incorrect to say that overseas visitors are not subject to faculty oversight, at least in the time I have been here. It is true that there is a separate committee for the global visitors, but this is much like the process in many schools of having a separate committee for junior and lateral visits/hires. The committee has five members including a chair, and is appointed as part of the same process of yearly faculty assignments. The membership of the committee is drawn from active, core faculty. In keeping with the NYU practice, committee recommendations are submitted to the faculty for an up or down vote. The submission to the faculty is in the form of a bound packet from the committee that includes a committee report on the recommendation of a visit and some sample materials.
In sum, the intimation that this program is mere window-dressing and has no intellectual engagement with the institution does not match my experience here.
Some of the reports I've had came from Hauser visitors, but they may well be dated, as the report of the current NYU faculty member, above, suggests.