Human Rights expert slams 'bullying campaign' to get professor sacked

Equality watchdog chief condemns ‘disgraceful’ attacks against Sussex University professor by trans rights mob as she calls on other institutions to ‘stop these attacks on freedom of speech’

  • University of Sussex professor Kathleen Stock has been branded a ‘transphobe’ by outraged students
  • Scores of people criticise the expert in gender and sexual orientation under #ShameOnSussexUni 
  • Posters say she ‘makes trans students unsafe’ and ‘we’re not paying £9,250 a year for transphobia’.
  • But university is standing by her and is ‘extremely concerned’ by ‘harassment’ faced by 48-year-old

The head of the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission has slammed the attacks on a Sussex University professor who was branded a ‘transphobe’, and demanded tougher regulation for social media companies to curb online abuse. 

Kishwer Falkner, Baroness of Margravine, 66, denounced the bullying behaviour of a minority of students who ‘disagree with someone’s entirely lawful expert views’

Kishwer Falkner, Baroness of Margravine, 66, wrote to The Times to denounce the bullying behaviour of a minority of students who ‘disagree with someone’s entirely lawful expert views’.

In her public letter, the equality watchdog chief agreed that ‘trans rights must be protected’, but reiterated the importance of academic integrity and freedom of expression on university campuses across the UK. 

Professor Kathleen Stock, 48, an expert in gender and sexual orientation who works for the University of Sussex, was branded a ‘transphobe’ by outraged students, who erected posters denouncing her and called for her to be fired.  

Signs put up this week in the pedestrian tunnel connecting Falmer train station to the university’s campus under the A27 said Ms Stock ‘makes trans students unsafe’ and ‘we’re not paying £9,250 a year for transphobia’.

It comes after Sussex Police launched an investigation into whether a university philosophy professor was a victim of harassment after she faced a campaign of ‘bullying’ over her views on trans rights – as students were warned they could be disciplined. 

Banners saying ‘Stock Out’ have been held alongside burning flares and scores of people have been criticising her under the Twitter hashtag #ShameOnSussexUni – although many others have been using it to support her.

The university’s vice chancellor Professor Adam Tickell said Friday that if any students can be identified as being involved, then ‘we will certainly take investigations and disciplinary action as appropriate under our regulations’. 

Kathleen Stock, 48, is a philosophy professor and expert in gender and sexual orientation at the University of Sussex

Signs have been put up in the pedestrian tunnel connecting Falmer train station to the university’s campus under the A27

Banners saying ‘Stock Out’ have been held alongside burning flares at the campus of the University of Sussex this week

Baroness Falkner’s comments read: ‘The attacks on Professor Kathleen Stock and the campaign to have her fired are disgraceful. Sussex University is right to investigate these attacks and defend academic freedom of speech.

‘Trans rights must be protected but university is a place where we are exposed to ideas and learn to debate with each other. This involves hearing about, and challenging, opposing perspectives.

‘It is not a place where people bully and harass professionals and berate institutions because they disagree with someone’s entirely lawful expert views. 

‘Tougher regulation of social media is needed so hatred cannot spread.’  

Meanwhile Sussex Police have said they are investigating, with a spokesman telling MailOnline: ‘On Wednesday, we received a report of harassment of an employee at the University of Sussex and we are investigating.

‘We take all reports of harassment seriously and will seek to investigate and to support victims. This is currently being investigated as a report of harassment, including by use of posters and online. If evidence of hate crime, or any other offence, does emerge during the investigation then that will be followed up and assessed at the time.’

Ms Stock has also spoken out, telling her 46,000 Twitter followers: ‘If you work where I do, and you know what’s happening to me at the moment (which I’ll discuss at later date), this is the time to say something about it. Not for me, but for you. What kind of future does a university have where intimidation determines what is said or taught?’

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.

The group leading the protests against her is an anonymous collective called ‘Anti Terf Sussex’, which describes itself as an ‘unaffiliated network of queer and trans students’. ‘Terf’ means a ‘trans-exclusionary radical feminist’. 

It was the term levelled at JK Rowling over her response to an article about ‘people who menstruate’. The author had tweeted last year:  ‘I’m sure there used to be a word for those people’, suggesting that word was ‘women’.

But this week, the University of Sussex and its vice chancellor have stood by Ms Stock, with officials saying they were ‘extremely concerned’ by the ‘harassment’ she had suffered and confirmed the posters had been removed. 

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.

And she wants a ban on transgender women in women’s changing rooms, saying in 2018 that ‘many trans women are still males with male genitalia’. 

But she has been blasted on Twitter as a ‘Terf’ amid a huge amount of criticism.

This morning, Professor Tickell told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘It’s absolutely clear that all of our staff have an untrammelled right to say and believe what they think. So we take it very seriously if people try to prevent that right from being exercised.

‘I have to say I am really concerned that we have masked protesters, putting up posters, calling for the sacking of somebody for exercising her rights to articulate her views, and it is a matter of real concern.’

Presenter Justin Webb then asked him: ‘If they are students, will you get rid of them?’

And Professor Tickell replied: ‘If they’re students, and we can identify them, we will certainly take investigations and disciplinary action, as appropriate under our regulations, yes.’

Mr Webb then asked him: ‘And there were one or two members of staff who went online on Twitter, apparently in support of them – what happens to them?’

And Professor Tickell said: ‘Well, again, this is an ongoing investigation, and I don’t want to prejudice what will happen as part of the due process, but we have legal and moral duties to ensure that people can speak freely.’

He continued: ‘I think we have to be really careful in universities and in society in general to ensure that we do everything to make sure that where we have very, very complicated and different views that we find the space to allow people to articulate those views.

The university’s vice chancellor Professor Adam Tickell said today that if any students can be identified as being involved, then ‘we will certainly take investigations and disciplinary action as appropriate under our regulations’

‘And the trouble with so many areas which are really contentious is that people very strongly believe that they are right and aren’t prepared to listen to others. So we really do try to find space to get people to talk and to listen.

How could the university disclipine students involved in the protests? 

Students at the University of Sussex can face disciplinary action for ‘threatening behaviour and bullying or harassment of staff or students’ – which is the middle of three levels of misconduct, called ‘Level Two’, according to the university’s website.

The top level of misconduct, ‘Level Three’, covers when their behaviour could be ‘sufficiently serious to call into question the student’s continued registration at the university’, which includes failture to comply with sanctions imposed for Level Two misconduct.

Level Two sanctions can include a fine of up to £1,000; a requirement ‘for the student to make good at their own expense, in whole or in part, any damage caused by them whether alone or with others up to the value of £1,000’; or a ban ‘from specific facilities or premises for a period up to the remaining duration of the student’s expected registration at the university’.

Level Three sanctions can include a fine up to £2,000; repair costs up to the same amount; suspension for up to two years; or expulsion with immediate effect.

Vice chancellor Professor Adam Tickell was asked by BBC Radio 4 presenter Justin Webb today of the protesters: ‘If they are students, will you get rid of them?’

And Professor Tickell replied: ‘If they’re students, and we can identify them, we will certainly take investigations and disciplinary action, as appropriate under our regulations, yes.’

‘I think what we have to do is we have to listen to people. We have very strong policies both on freedom of speech and on inclusion. And I think the trouble we’ve got is that people aren’t prepared to stop and think and listen, rather than to just shout.

‘So we just need to make sure that in polarised debates, we can find ways of getting back the nuance and we can get back some of the compassion rather than simply thinking, if I shout loud I’m going to be the one who dominates.

‘I think that sometimes when you have real moments of crisis, it gets people to step back and think how can we pull back from the brink. University of Sussex has just appointed a new lead on cultural diversity and inclusion, and the whole agenda that he’s committed to is making sure that we protect everybody from bullying and harassment, but that we also have an inclusive environment.’

He added: ‘I think that there is a lot of support for ensuring that people can speak freely.’

Among the tweets against Ms Stock this week was one saying: ‘#ShameOnSussexUni the fact that this is trending right now is unbelievable and disgusting. 

‘Transphobia has no place on our campus. F**k Kathleen Stock, you insufferable c**t. Shame on Sussex for continuing to employ her and allowing her to spread hate on campus.’ 

Another tweeted: ‘#ShameOnSussexUni for employing bullies and transphobes like Kathleen Stock.’

And a third said: ‘#ShameOnSussexUni for employing transphobes like Kathleen Stock and shame on anyone who tried to defend this bigotry. 

‘Either later in your life you will realise you are on the wrong side of history, like so many bigots before you, or you will die alone because everyone will leave.’ 

But there was also plenty of support for Ms Stock yesterday, with radical feminist Julie Bindel tweeting: ‘Do you support what is happening at the moment to Kathleen Stock? 

‘If you do you’re a sadistic bully. Shame on you. Those of you that can speak out, speak out. You’ve covered your a***s for long enough.’

Jessica Taylor, also a radical feminist author, said: ‘I stand with Kathleen Stock. Academic freedom (and safety) to debate, discuss, disagree, and theorise is vital for human and social development. 

‘Harassing, intimidating and bullying women who have a view on a topic is abhorrent and  has no place anywhere. Freedom of speech for all.’

Attention on her views has intensified since her book Material Girls came out in May

And Paul Embery, a trade union activist, added: ‘I stand with Professor Kathleen Stock OBE – a respected academic and feminist who is currently the target of a vicious campaign demanding her sacking from @SussexUni for the ‘crime’ of expressing gender critical views. #Solidarity #StandUpToBullying.’

A University of Sussex spokesman told MailOnline yesterday: ‘We were extremely concerned to see the harassment towards our staff member and took immediate action in response to this, which is continuing.

‘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.

‘As a university community, we must be able to have complex discussions without bullying or harassment. We will always take swift action when this occurs. 

‘Our role as a university is to facilitate such conversations to advance shared understanding and common agreement. We insist that these are carried out respectfully and are always protective of our staff and students.’ 

The university’s vice chancellor Adam Tickell also said: ‘We are 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. Everyone at the university has the right to be free from harassment and intimidation. 

‘We cannot and will not tolerate threats to cherished academic freedoms and will take any action necessary to protect the rights of our community.’

In June 2020, author JK Rowling was accused of being ‘transphobic’ after insisting only women experience menstruation

In June 2020, author JK Rowling was accused of being ‘transphobic’ after insisting only women experience menstruation. She had challenged an article entitled: ‘Opinion: Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate.’

Taking issue with the phrasing, she copied a link to the article and posted above it on Twitter: ‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?’

Amid the backlash she later posted: ‘I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives. It isn’t hate to speak the truth.’ 

It also comes after medical journal The Lancet was accused of using the phrase ‘bodies with vaginas’ in lieu of the word ‘female’, which later saw editor Richard Horton apologise for conveying the impression that ‘we have de-humanised and marginalised women’. 

This week, Exeter University’s Students’ Guild resisted calls for an anti-abortion society to be shut down, supporting its members’ rights to ‘freedom of speech’ and to operate without fear of ‘intolerance or discrimination’.

The Christian group, Exeter Students for Life, is run by a male second-year law student named Ali who says he wants to end ‘murders happening every day’, and describes anyone involved in the process of abortion as a ‘sinner’.

On social media, students from around the UK have suggested that the university shouldn’t allow the society to operate on campus, but the Exeter University’s Students’ Guild said in a statement said that it encourages ‘freedom of speech’.

Read The Mail On Sunday’s review of Material Girls by clicking here 

Source: Read Full Article