SINGAPORE - The National University of Singapore (NUS) professor who drew flak last week for referring to lesbianism as “cancers” has been counselled by the university, even as some students voiced support for him.
In an e-mail to all faculty members, staff and students on Wednesday, NUS provost Tan Eng Chye said he had counselled Associate Professor Syed Muhd Khairudin Aljunied, who acknowledged that his original post “reflected poor judgment in the tone and choice of words”.
Professor Tan, who is also NUS deputy president of academic affairs, said Prof Khairudin’s comments “contained provocative, inappropriate and offensive language”.
The latest controversy, which comes in the midst of a debate over whether a Health Promotion Board advisory had normalised homosexuality, was sparked by a Facebook post by Prof Khairudin.
In it, the Malay Studies professor had urged scholars, religious teachers and parents to speak up against liberal Islam ideologies and practices such as lesbianism. “All social diseases must end at home, if not, in schools.”
He later changed the post to remove the offending words, but it had already attracted the attention of three past and present NUS students, who said last week that his post was “tantamount to hate speech”.
Another group of 86 faculty, staff and students from NUS and the Yale-NUS College also sent a letter to The Straits Times Forum on Wednesday to object to Prof Khairudin’s “hurtful” comments.
“As a person in a position of authority, his public statements signal to LGBT students or staff who might be supervised by him that they may not be respected as human beings,” wrote Dr Khoo Hoon Eng of the Yale-NUS College on behalf of the 86. LGBT refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
This may thus “create a hostile working and learning environment antithetical to the principles of a university or equitable workplace”, added Dr Khoo, a supporter of gay rights.
But some defended Prof Khairudin. The Fellowship of Muslim Students Association, posted a letter dated March 3 on its Facebook page to say it is firmly behind him.
Calling him “an icon of the Malay/Muslim community in the field of academic achievement”, they said they are grateful for citizens like him who are “willing to stand up for the purity of the family institution”. The criticism against him is “unfair” and “a character assassination”.
Prof Tan called for students and staff to show greater restraint over their words, especially online. “This incident reminds us that issues concerning race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and value systems continue to be sensitive, contentious and potentially divisive in Singapore, as in many other societies.”
Ms Melissa Tsang, one of the three who wrote the first protest letter, applauded the provost’s e-mail for affirming that NUS embraces diversity. “It was a bold step that deserves our commendation,” she said.
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