CSUN confronts moral dilemma: Ng’s controversial website within his rights

William Herbe

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Last week the CSUN community was shocked by the news that an economics professor was running his own website about sex-tourism in Thailand. This week we are discussing the issue and welcome your input. Go to www.sundial.csun.edu to comment or e-mail your response to opinion@sundial.csun.edu.

Once class starts and the lecture begins, Professor Kenneth Ng may be all business and economics. CSUN can’t take the man’s job away just because we morally disagree with his private life outside of the university and classroom. In this case what he is doing is legal and we cannot interfere. Or so deems the Professional Responsibilities outlined by CSUN’s administration.

Ng is within his rights to run a website that offers advice and suggestions for those who are interested in sex tourism in Thailand.
According to the CSUN Administration Manual, Section 604.1 states:

“As a member of the teaching profession, the faculty member: Practices, fosters, and defends intellectual honesty, freedom of inquiry and instruction, and free expression on and off the campus.”

The Professional Responsibilities of the faculty? Running a website that promotes sex tourism in Thailand doesn’t sound like the best use of professional judgment or responsibility.

Maybe the problem is the rights we have in the US are too free and often practiced with zero consequence. There are many ways we can take advantage of these freedoms from time-to-time. In this case Ng is making the Constitution and CSUN professional code appear foolish.

I don’t agree with the actions and decisions of Ng.

However, freedom of expression is within his rights, to do this as long as it does not interfere with his job as a professor and it happens outside of the university.
Reluctantly, Ng has since removed his site, but not at the request of the school. Ng’s freedom to express on the site tied the administration’s hands behind their back.

As Provost Harry Hellenbrand wrote in an e-mail to the CSUN community:

“I understand that some people will be disappointed that we did not force the site’s closure; others already object that university leadership was critical of a university employee’s speech. We are trying to balance two principles that, in this case, clashed.

“Our commitment to gender equity compels us to see the site as offensive; our commitment to expression urges us to tolerate words and pictures we find intolerant. As university leaders, we believe open debate is critical to ordering our values and determining our acts. While belief in an absolute right to censor might initially comfort us; ‘our’ and ‘us’ has a way of quickly narrowing to ‘you’ and ‘me.’ Then the danger is that exclusion and exploitation, the acts that initially incited us to censor, become the rules of the day.”

The dilemma is: should we tolerate that reasoning, respect and accept it? Or do we let our moral radar do the talking and take a stand?

Under Professional Responsibilities, 604.4:

“As a member of an institution, the faculty member:

3. Maintains the right to criticize regulations and seek their revision.“

The faculty has the freedom to ask tough questions and consider revisions in this manual. Rigid regulation should be discussed in the wake of this controversial matter.

When does one’s private life cross the line into their professional life?

I challenge the CSUN Administration and community to face these tough moral questions.