Behind the scenes

Sussex University condemns ‘bullying’ campaign against ‘transphobic’ professor

Vice chancellor defends Kathleen Stock against ‘disturbing’ attack on ‘academic freedoms’

The University of Sussex has said it will not tolerate threats to “academic freedoms” amid calls for a professor to be sacked over her views on transgender issues.

Defenders of Professor Kathleen Stock, an expert in analytic philosophy, have claimed transgender activists have launched a campaign to “bully” her out of her role, The Telegraph said, distributing posters “which call on the university to fire” her over her views.

A group calling itself “Anti Terf Sussex” – Terf stands for trans exclusionary radical feminist – has described Stock as “one of this wretched island’s most prominent transphobes, espousing a bastardised variation of radical feminism” in online posts.

Gender row

Stock has previously described herself as being “at odds” with many modern academics, mainly because she believes gender identity is not more important than facts about biological sex, “particularly when it comes to law and policy”.

In an interview with local paper The Argus in 2018, she said that “many trans women are still males with male genitalia, many are sexually attracted to females, and they should not be in places where females undress or sleep in a completely unrestricted way.”

She told the university’s student newspaper, The Badger, in the same year that “the rights of trans women and natal females to live lives free of violence, threat, discrimination, and harassment are totally compatible and should both absolutely be upheld”.

“The difficulty lies in the current claim, made by trans activist organisations, that the solution to violence against trans women is their sharing spaces with natal females like hostel dormitories, women’s prisons, and communal changing rooms,” she added.

These remarks, among others, have led to her being denounced as a “transphobe” by some students, with The Times reporting that posters have been put up around Sussex University saying: “We’re not paying £9,250 a year for transphobia – fire Kathleen Stock” and “Kathleen Stock makes trans students unsafe, Sussex still pays her”.

Anti Terf Sussex also claimed that Stock is a “bigot” as well as being “anti-feminist, anti-queer and anti-intellectual”, The Telegraph said. The group says her views and public pronouncements on gender issues are “harmful and dangerous to trans people”.

In a since deleted tweet reported by The Times, an art historian at the university wrote that while “it doesn’t feel right to wish a colleague should be fired”, the “virulent and oppressive implications of Stock’s public speaking about gender have made many people unsafe”.

In January, “hundreds of academics” criticised the decision to give her an OBE for services to higher education in the New Year honours list, The Guardian added.

In an open letter, they condemned Stock for using her status to “further gender oppression” and said they denounced “transphobia in all its forms”.

Academic freedom

The University of Sussex has defended Stock’s right to express her views on transgender issues. A spokesperson said that the institution is “extremely concerned” that she was being harassed and that they had taken “immediate action” in response.

“As a university community, we must be able to have complex discussions without bullying or harassment,” the spokesperson added. “We are deeply committed to being a safe and inclusive university, which values and advances equality and diversity, seeks to resolve conflicts, advances good relations and upholds lawful free speech.”

Stock yesterday tweeted: “What kind of future does a university have where intimidation determines what is said or taught?”

This morning, she added that she “couldn’t begin to adequately thank the hundreds of people who have helped or encouraged me”, telling new followers on her Twitter account that if they were expecting “outrageous takes” they would find her “extremely boring and vanilla”. 

“It’s a sign of the toxicity of times that I’m considered remotely dangerous,” she said.

Her defenders have “called on the university to step up its efforts to protect” her from activists calling for her to lose her job, The Telegraph said.

Jessica Taylor, a self-defined radical feminist author, tweeted: “I stand with Kathleen Stock. Academic freedom (and safety) to debate, discuss, disagree, and theorise is vital for human and social development.”

Feminist writer Julie Bindel added in a tweet that anyone who “supports what is happening at the moment” is “a sadistic bully”, adding: “Those of you that can speak out, speak out. You’ve covered your arses for long enough.”

University of Sussex Vice Chancellor Adam Tickell said the institution was “investigating activity on our campus which appears to have been designed to attack Professor Kathleen Stock for exercising her academic freedoms.

“Disturbingly, this has included pressuring the university to terminate her employment,” he added. “Everyone at the university has the right to be free from harassment and intimidation.”

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