Intervention follows student protests targeting philosophy prof Kathleen Stock
Leading legal academics have put their names to an open letter supporting the academic freedom of embattled professor Kathleen Stock.
Stock, a philosophy professor at the University of Sussex, has been the target of student protests over her views on “how to manage the many clashes of interests between females and trans women in the realm of law and public policy”. Activists regard them as transphobic.
One protestor told PinkNews that “Sussex is full of queer and trans students, and also the fact we’re paying £9,000 a year to feel unsafe on campus is quite interesting”.
Academics think that the campaign against Stock is a threat to her academic freedom, and the authorities seem to agree. The University of Sussex has put out a statement saying it has “vigorously and unequivocally defended Professor Kathleen Stock’s right to exercise her academic freedom and lawful freedom of speech”.
Not everyone is willing to go on the record. Writing in the New Statesman this week, Harry Lambert reports that “three of Stock’s four fellow professors of philosophy at Sussex told me that they supported her academic freedom, but none would say so publicly”.
But over 200 legal academics have put their names to a letter “in Support of Sussex University’s Defence of Academic Freedom”.
They say that “while not all of us agree with Professor Stock’s views, we are convinced of the importance of making space within universities and within public life for respectful debate and discussion, particularly in relation to pressing issues of public policy. As legal scholars it is essential to our practice that we teach students how to criticise arguments”.
Among the big names are Mindy Chen-Wishart of Oxford, Conor Gearty of the LSE, Mark Elliott of Cambridge and Aileen McHarg of Durham.
Others criticised the missive. Dr Sandra Duffy of Bristol Law School tweeted: “[I]f legal scholars were more in tune with the trans community within academia (as I am) or gender-diverse themselves (as again, I am), they might be aware of exactly how much anxiety and alienation this whole thing has stoked in a lot of people. Colleagues feel unsafe”.
Asked about Stock last week, Equality and Human Rights Commission chair Kishwer Falkner said, “I wouldn’t describe her views as transphobic. I would say that, in general, there is in the Equality Act very specific guidance to protect single-sex spaces, but there is also a requirement in the Equality Act that trans people’s rights must be protected… so it’s a matter of balancing sometimes conflicting, sometimes competing rights”.