Sussex University facing 'academic freedom of speech' probe

Sussex University faces watchdog ‘freedom of speech’ probe after academic Kathleen Stock quit amid high-profile transgender row

  • University of Sussex faces inquiry after The Office for Students launches probe 
  • Watchdog set to investigate if Sussex met ‘obligations on freedom of speech’
  • Professor Kathleen Stock resigned amid high-profile transgender row last month
  • The case surrounding the academic is now set to be heard in the House of Lords 

The University of Sussex is to be investigated by the independent regulator of higher education after Professor Kathleen Stock resigned amid a high-profile transgender row. 

The Office for Students watchdog will now lead an investigation into whether or not the 60-year-old institution met its ‘obligations on academic freedom and freedom of speech’, reports The Times.

Professor Stock, 48, announced she would be resigning from the university a fortnight ago after receiving death threats, bringing an end to the two-month saga that saw her branded a ‘transphobe’ by outraged students who called for her to be fired. 

Posters put up in the tunnel from Falmer station to the university’s campus earlier this month said she ‘makes trans students unsafe’ and ‘we’re not paying £9,250 a year for transphobia’. 

She is now set to join a new freedom of speech-led university in the United States after 18 years at the University of Sussex. 

Her case is now set to be heard in the House of Lords, as the university watchdog launched an inquiry into Professor Stock’s former employers’ conduct in the midst of her gender row.

Professor Kathleen Stock, 48, announced she would be resigning from the university a fortnight ago after receiving death threats, bringing an end to the two-month saga that saw her branded a ‘transphobe’ by outraged students who called for her to be fired

The University’s Vice Chancellor Adam Tickell had strongly defended her ‘untrammelled’ right to ‘say what she thinks’, whilst more than 200 academics from other universities signed a letter calling out alleged abuse from ‘trans activist bullies’.

He also said that Professor Stock had made ‘vital’ contributions to the field of philosophy and that the ‘intolerance’ directed at her would ‘always’ be ‘in direct opposition to even the most basic principles of academia’.

‘I would like to make it very clear that it is unlawful to discriminate against someone on the grounds of sex and of philosophical belief. Her departure is a loss to us all,’ he added.

Baroness Barran, education minister in the House of Lords, told peers on Tuesday: ‘The Office for Students has decided to open an investigation into whether the University of Sussex met its obligations on academic freedom and freedom of speech. 

‘No academic should have to fear for their personal safety, particularly as a consequence of expressing lawful views.’

And Labour peer Lord Hunt of Kings Heath added: ‘Other academics in many other universities are facing similar abuse, particularly women, for basically gender critical views.

‘However much legislation you have, you need to have confidence in our universities to show some strength in defending their academics.’

Last night, Professor Stock shared her gratitude at the Lords for ‘taking this issue up on behalf of women academics generally, but also non-academics, to discuss views about sex and gender freely without fear of intimidatory reprisals’.  

The Office for Students watchdog will now lead an investigation into whether or not the 60-year-old institution met its ‘obligations on academic freedom and freedom of speech’. Pictured: Pupils protest against Prof Stock at a #StockOut rally held in Brighton

Kathleen Stock explained her views on trans issues in written evidence to Parliament in November 2020 here:

  • Womanhood and manhood reflect biological sex, not gender or gender identity;
  • The claim ‘transwomen are women’ is a fiction, not literally true
  • Sexual orientation (being gay, being lesbian) is determined by same-sex attraction, not attraction to gender identity
  • Spaces where women undress and sleep should remain genuinely single-sex, in order to protect them;
  • Children with gender identity disorders should not be given puberty blockers as minors.

In an interview with UnHerd, Prof Stock revealed the true extent of the aggressive campaign of targeted harassment she endured at the furious hands of trans-rights activists. 

She recalled: They were setting off flares. And they later took a picture of a man in a balaclava, all in black, looking just like [a member of the violent Left-wing anarchist group] Antifa.

‘The imagery was obviously intimidating: holding a massive banner saying ‘Stock out’, while setting off pink and blue flares, because those are the colours on the transgender flag.

‘I ran back to the station, got the train home, tried to teach a class on Zoom, burst into tears and my dear students said I must be having a tough day and they let me off,’ she says.

‘It was the beginning of the end of the campaign to intimidate me out of my job.’ 

Last month, Prof Stock accused a union branch of ‘effectively’ ending her career after it called on her employer to take a ‘strong stance’ against transphobia.

In a statement, the Sussex branch of the University and College Union (UCU) said all trans and non-binary members ‘now more than ever should receive the unequivocal support’ of the University of Sussex.

Ms Stock has repeatedly insisted in the past that she is not a transphobe, but attention on her views has intensified since her book Material Girls came out in May.

She has written and spoken extensively about sex and gender identity – arguing that womanhood and manhood reflect biological sex, not gender or gender identity.

Ms Stock also claims trans women are not women; and sexual orientation is determined by same-sex attraction, not attraction to gender identity.  

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