Sussex Uni defends 'academic freedoms' of professor after campaign calls for 'transphobe' to be sacked

University of Sussex
University of Sussex
Samantha Haynes

By Samantha Haynes

Published: 08/10/2021

- 13:10

Updated: 14/02/2023

- 11:34

University says it will not tolerate threats from campaign group calling for Prof Kathleen Stocks' dismissal for her views on gender identification

The University of Sussex has defended the rights of Professor Kathleen Stock to remain in her job, saying "we will not tolerate threats to cherished academic freedoms".

An anonymous group, reportedly set up by students, has launched a campaign to remove Kathleen Stock, a professor of philosophy at the University of Sussex, from her position at the university after accusations of transphobia.

The vice-chancellor of the University of Sussex has said the institution is investigating campus activity which appears to have been designed to “attack” Prof Stock personally for “exercising her academic freedoms”.

Prof Adam Tickell said everyone at the university has the right “to be free from harassment and intimidation” and the institution will take “any action necessary to protect the rights” of their community.

His comments come after posters calling for Prof Stock to be fired were reportedly put up near to the university’s campus, and an image emerged on social media of a campaigner holding a banner saying “Stock Out”.

Prof Stock has previously said "many trans women are still males with male genitalia", causing the campaign group to brand her as a "transphobe".

She has responded saying she is “at odds” with some academics as she believes gender identity is not more important than facts about biological sex “particularly when it comes to law and policy”.

Prof Stock said a “strong pressure” to fill course places had made university leaders worried that defending academic freedom will be misunderstood.

She warned that universities’ desire to attract students and “generate income” can result in increased “ostracism of nonconformist academics”.

Prof Stock tweeted on Thursday: “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?”

Academics on Twitter called on the university to do more to protect Prof Stock under the hashtag #ShameOnSussexUni.

Prof Tickell 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 January, hundreds of academics criticised the decision to make Prof Stock an OBE for services to higher education in the New Year Honours.

In the open letter, the philosophers condemned academics who use their status to “further gender oppression” and said they denounced “transphobia in all its forms”.

A University of Sussex spokesman said: “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.”

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