Despite the growing public interest, the ANU is maintaining its official silence on Lee Kuan Yew’s honorary Doctor of Laws. Still no mention of the award ceremony on the ANU web site nor any attempt to justify the award in the face of growing criticism. One can only assume that this is a decision that is proving very difficult to justify in public.

No attempt is being made to be accountable to the broader ANU community on this decision. My enquiries about the decision making process for the award have run into a brick wall. I was referred to the Minutes of the ANU Council meeting of 8 December 2006 but these provided no information at all given that the Lee Kuan Yew matter was considered in a confidential session. I have also been trying to get some details of the relevant Honorary Degrees Committee meeting, but as yet no luck on this either. It is important to remember that the ANU Honorary Degree Rules state that:

A proposal must be addressed to the Chair of the Committee and delivered to the Head, Council and Boards Secretariat who must send it to the Committee for consideration and, if supported by the Committee, for recommendation to the Council. [Note that “the Committee” is defined in the rules as the Honorary Degrees Committee.]

I must admit that I am now wondering if the Honorary Degrees Committee was bypassed in this rather mysterious process. I will keep New Mandala readers posted on this.

A good indication of the level of discomfort at ANU is provided by an email from the Dean of the College of Law that is circulating within the ANU (and outside):

As you know, the ANU is on Wednesday of this week conferring an honorary doctorate on the former Prime Minister of Singapore Mr Lee Kuan Yew. This has produced a storm of protest, both within our College and outside it. The essence of the protest is that it does not sit easily with a College and a University that values human rights and academic freedom to honour a person, whatever his tangible achievements in nation-building in Singapore, whose regime was associated with the erosion of those values and the suppression of freedom of speech and expression.

It is a matter of particular concern that, because Mr Lee Kuan Yew is to be awarded an honorary LLD, there may be an assumption in relevant communities that the ANU College of Law is somehow implicated in the decision, whether by way of initiation or endorsement.

In fact, neither I, as Dean of the ANU College of Law, nor, to the best of my knowledge, anyone else in the College, was consulted on the proposal or took part in the decision. Indeed, I was unaware of the decision until I received an invitation to the ceremony. As I understand it, the decision was a decision of the ANU Council, following a proposal from the Chancellor.

Given that the decision is a fait accompli and, in the nature of things, effectively irreversible, it is a matter for individuals now to determine how they wish to respond. Many have registered their protests with the Vice Chancellor, who has forwarded them to the Chancellor. I have informed the Vice Chancellor that I will not be participating in the degree ceremony. I have also informed him that neither do I expect many, if any, colleagues in the ANU College of Law to participate, if only because of our College Advisory Board meeting that day.

I believe that the decision to honor Mr Lee Kuan Yew was driven in part by the desire to strengthen our ties with the National University of Singapore, with whom we are a partner in the International Association of Research Universities. May I say that, whatever one thinks of the decision, and whatever criticism one makes of it, the controversy surrounding it should not be taken to detract from our good relations and connections with the National University of Singapore, with whom we continue to explore opportunities for fruitful collaboration.

The ceremony is to take place at University House, this Wednesday, March 28 at 11.00 AM. Protests are planned. Another email circulating at ANU states:

I am writing to inform you that there will be a gathering to protest the ANU’s decision to award the former Prime Minister of Singapore, Mr. Lee Kwan Yew, an honorary degree in Law. All concerned members of the ANU community are invited so please feel free to come along and/or invite others to attend. If you happen to have a class at that time it would be a great symbol to encourage as many of your students to go and for yourselves to lead them there. I’m sure most of you are aware of the autocratic and repressive regime that Mr. Kwan Yew presided over, and still heavily influences, so I encourage you all to attend this event as a sign to the ANU that pandering to corrupt (former) world leaders will be condemned by its members.

New Mandala will be there.