Hypocrisy of requesting Chan Heng Chee’s resignation from Yale-NUS College governing board

Ambassador-at-large Professor Chan Heng Chee spoke recently at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) some time late January. The UPR is a forum of the Human Rights Council of the United Nations to review the human rights policies and practices of the member nations of the UN. As expected, Prof. Chan had to respond to calls to repeal Section 377A of Singapore’s Penal Code. That is the part of the Penal Code that criminalises sex between two men. As expected, Prof. Chan said things which could be construed to defend NOT repealing 377A.

Let me first state upfront that I am all for repealing 377A. What two men do behind close doors consensually is up to them. If indeed what they are doing is an expression of the love they have for each other, then we should just wish them well and leave them be. Why should we have laws that punish them?

But for whatever reasons, our government doesn’t think this way. And Prof. Chan, as the head of the delegation at the UPR, had to do her duty and defend that position. We would be surprised if she acted otherwise.

Prof. Chan is also on the governing board of the Yale-NUS college in Singapore. It’s a liberal arts college, whose purported mission is to encourage “habits of creativity, curiosity, and critical thinking”. It’s also supposed to have a “diverse group of students, faculty, staff, and supporters”. Within such diversity, I suppose there would be groups of people who are for appealing 377A as well as those who are against.

The voices supporting the repeal of 377A definitely rang out loud and clear from Yale-NUS college in response to what Prof. Chan said at the UPR. In particular, a certain Nicholas Carverhill wrote an article in The Octant (a Yale-NUS student publication) calling for Prof. Chan to relinquish her position from the governing board of Yale-NUS. Nicholas wasn’t alone. Apparently a number of other students have also echoed this position.

What hypocrisy! Yale-NUS College is supposed to embrace diversity. How can it then be that the moment someone says something you don’t agree with, you want to boot that person out of your community? That’s like saying: “If you say something I don’t agree with, then you have no right to say anything at all!” How’s that “liberal”?

“Ah! But it’s about integrity and consistency! Yale-NUS embraces diversity! We must not have anyone on the governing board who defends 377A.” Isn’t that already a contradiction? It’s like shouting “We will be inclusive, except if you oppose our views. If you oppose our views, out you go!” It gives the impression that the proponents of repealing 377A don ‘the just want to shove their opinions down the throats and up the arses of everyone else, they would exile anyone who still opposes their views. How is that inclusive? How is that embracing diversity?

And if the proponents of integrity and consistency are truly that idealistic, then what would they do if Yale-NUS refuses to force Prof. Chan to leave the governing board? Would they, in order to maintain their own integrity and consistency in their support of repealing 377A, quit Yale-NUS because it is no longer aligned to their personal con victims?

There is nothing wrong with having a healthy, vigorous discussion about this (or any) issue. In fact, there is something beautiful about youths standing up for what they believe. There is something inspirational about youths coming forth to try to change the world for the better, to right the wrongs, to bring justice to those who have been treated unfairly. But it cannot be that the only way to do this is to turn the tables and oppress and silence others.

I am also not saying that we need to tolerate intolerance. No. We should not. We should fight against intolerance. But we should not become intolerant to those who were intolerant (which is exactly what the Yale-NUS students who are calling for Prof. Chan’s resignation are). We must be always mindful not to become the oppressors. As Nietzsche said: “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.”

In any case, one could argue that making Prof. Chan resign from the governing board would do more harm than good. Would Prof. Chan’s resignation from the governing board do anything to lessen the discrimination (viz 377A) that the LGBTI+ community is experiencing? No. Not a single iota. Would Prof. Chan’s resignation from the governing board make it more likely for 377A to be repealed? Nope. Not in the least. So what benefit would there be in forcing Prof. Chan to resign from the governing board? Probably nothing. But the rest of the Yale-NUS community would lose the benefit of having someone like Prof. Chan serving on the governing board. Net result? More harm and probably nothing good.

I hope that the majority of Yale-NUS students are smarter and less hypocritical than those who have been baying for Prof. Chan’s resignation.

[Featured image: Ambassador-at-large Prof. Chan Heng Chee at the UPR. Image from Channel News Asia]

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10 thoughts on “Hypocrisy of requesting Chan Heng Chee’s resignation from Yale-NUS College governing board

  1. Is asking for her to step down an act of “intolerance”? Imagine if this wasn’t about LGBT rights. Say a particular professor held a view that a particular race should be superior to others, or viewed women as inferior to men. This view does not affect his/her work or teaching capability, and he/she has never discriminated against any minority race or female students in his capacity as a professor.

    Certainly, while the minority races or female students would not face any real impact, they would certainly find offense if the governing body kept the professor on-board as a teacher. What do you think?

    (personally, i don’t support the call for her resignation – i just find myself supporting the resignation call if it was related to gender or racial equality). And thus, i’m wondering if I’m practicing a double standard.

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    • If it’s that person’s view and view alone that isn’t acted upon (ie he hasn’t done, and can somehow prove that he won’t do, anything to discriminate against anyone), then on what basis can we demand his resignation?

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    • Oh… There’s the Sedition Act to deal with the person in your hypothetical situation if what he said resulted in ill will between races.

      But why no equivalent for genders or people of different sexuality? I don’t know. Ask our lawmakers. If one day they feel that it’s the will of the people to have amendments to the Sedition Act to include criminalising things that result in ill will between different genders, or between people of different sexuality, then we’ll see that being made into law.

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      • It’s called an election. The law makers dare not change the law because they risk getting voted out, Yes even in SG that could happened. Read the speeches by the various ministers regarding this, that are lots of clues hinting to it. All of them basically stated that the society should be the ones pushing this and not the govt forcing it on them. Translation, society not happy, limpeh force it in, limpeh get voted out. The late LKY and PM LHL already made it clear their stance is to leave them alone. The law is more symbolic than anything else

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    • I would bite the bullet and say that in the spirit of liberal thought, we should at least DEBATE on those views first before doing something like asking the professor to step down. If the prof said something racist or sexist, then maybe she had reason to. Then we can challenge the exact premises that led to her racist or sexist conclusion.

      The same principle should be applied here. We should not be intolerant of her propositions. If she says something we disagree with, then we should debate on it, not ask her to step down immediately. If the racist/sexist cannot hold up her views in a debate, she would have to change her views. If facts and a logically sound argument is presented and she is still unchanging of her views and cannot rebut our side, then we can ask her to step down because there is a logical failure. We want all members of the board to at least be logical. If a logical argument is presented and she is still unconvinced then there is problem.

      Right now though, asking her to step down prematurely is wholly unjustified.

      Also, there is a problem of if these are not actually her views but she is tasked to defend them either way.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. So we can represent intolerence but if we don’t do anything intolerent – its ok because it is our job. Ok.
    – really? No question of integrity here.

    To be consistent with our need to be diverse, we need to tolerate prople who advocate otherwise. Ok.
    – so do we now need representatives of bigotted racists or we can’t call ourselves a diverse society? Or perhaps that is too extreme. Perhaps we shouldn’t try and change the existing bigots in our society because really, we can’t be seen as intolerant.

    To be consistent with your views, you must leave any organisation that is inconsistent with your views. Ok.
    – so all opposotion parties who do not agree with tyrant governments should not be part of the country’s political system?

    Really?

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    • Can an organisation be considered inclusive if one excludes those whose views differ from ours? Even if those are bigoted racists?

      Trying to change the views of those bigoted racist isn’t being intolerant. Booting them out, that is intolerant. Of course, if said bigoted racist does something that hurts another group of people, then he ought to be punished for that. That, also, isn’t being intolerant.

      And whether one ought to leave an organisation that is inconsistent with our views depend on what those views are. If those views are that the organisation, in order to maintain integrity and consistency ought to boot people who doesn’t agree with it out, then if one doesn’t agree with the views of that organisation, then in order to have integrity with one’s own views, one, logically, should leave that organisation.

      However, if one’s view is that even people who don’t agree with the views of the majority of the organisation have a place in the organisation, and if one later finds that one is in the minority concerning certain views, then there’s no need for one to leave the organisation to maintain integrity and consistency with one’s own views.

      Finally, where’s the wisdom in asking a person (Prof Chan in this specific instance) to leave a position just based on a particular view that she had even if that view doesn’t, in the grand scheme of things, make her any less able to perform her function in that position one is asking her to leave? Of course, if there is evidence to show that because of her view, her presence is indeed detrimental to the organisation, then by all means, get her out. Not because of her views on a particular subject, but that, based on an overall assessment, she’s no longer able to perform her duty in that position.

      If we keep believing that someone ought to leave his/her position just because of a certain view, even if that view doesn’t prevent that person from doing his job well, then that’s where we will have homosexual teachers being asked to leave the teaching service, even if that teacher is a fantastic teacher. Therefore, isn’t advocating for Prof Chan’s resignation exactly the sort of behaviour and thinking tha we ought to be fighting against?

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  3. How about i suggest a hypothetical but parallel situation? Let’s say our govt only supports the voicing of opinion from natural aristocrats, and implements policies and laws in that support. So they put someone like Chan to sit in the governing board of Yale-NUS to promote the suppression of alternative voices from non-aristocrats., and actively persecutes those who dare speak up and act against aristocrats.

    But Yale comes from the land of the free, home of the brave, where freedom of expression of any kind is permitted, to the limit of criminal activities. So now we have a conflict of ideals.

    So would it be hypocrisy to ask Chan to step down from the governing board just because she supports the local govt’s view, of suppression of alternative voices and ideas? Or would it be hypocrisy to support Chan, and the local govt’s view, which run contrary to Yale’s own governing principles, of free expression of ideas?

    By the way, this is not totally hypothetical.

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    • U counter argument makes no sense. If Yale-NUS accepts diverse views, they should accept those that oppose them. Land of the Free also means that U are free to oppose. To repress them is contrary to that belief

      Like

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