The minister for higher and further education has declared it a “sad day for freedom of speech” after a philosophy professor at the centre of a row over gender-critical views resigned from the University of Sussex.
Prof Kathleen Stock resigned from her position at the University of Sussex, the university vice-chancellor announced yesterday in an email to staff. Some accuse Prof Stock of transphobia for her views on gender identity: it is an accusation she rejects.
In a tweet, Prof Stock tweeted she was “sad to announce” she was leaving the university after “a very difficult few years”. She said the university “leadership’s approach more recently has been admirable and decent”.
Earlier this month, an anonymous group launched a campaign to have Prof Stock sacked.
Sussex vice-chancellor Prof Adam Tickell said: “The university has been consistent and clear that everyone in our community has the right to work and learn, free from bullying and harassment of any kind, which has not been the case for Professor Stock.”
Tickell said Prof Stock had “decided that recent events have meant that [her return to work] will not be possible, and we respect and understand that decision”. He added that her departure “is a loss to us all”.
In a statement issued by the Department for Education, Michelle Donelan said: “It is absolutely appalling that the toxic environment at the University of Sussex has made it untenable for Professor Kathleen Stock to continue in her position there. No academic should ever have to fear for their personal safety.
“The sustained campaign of harassment and intimidation she has faced is deplorable and the situation should never have got this far. This incident demonstrates only too clearly why this government is pressing ahead with legislation to promote and defend free speech on campuses.”
This only reinforces the need for our Free Speech Bill. Will @UKLabour finally wake up and realise there is a problem?
— Michelle Donelan MP (@michelledonelan) October 28, 2021
The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) bill is currently under debate in parliament.
The legislation, if passed, would make universities and student unions liable for promoting freedom of speech and academic freedom and create a board-level position at the Office for Students (OfS), responsible for overseeing cases and complaints. The OfS director of free speech and academic freedom would act as a “one-stop-shop“, Donelan told MPs, and investigate on behalf of students, staff and visiting speakers who feel a university has not protected their freedom of speech or academic freedom
Michelle Donelan, minister for HE and FE, also tweeted: “It is a sad day for freedom of speech – given the toxic environment at [the University of Sussex] has made it untenable for [Prof Stock] to maintain her position there. No academic should ever have to fear for their personal safety.”
The principle of autonomy for universities to employ staff is enshrined in law. Of course we can take all take our own positions. Regardless of individual cases, it is vital that we recognise the independence of the academy. Like the judiciary, it must be free from political will https://t.co/XK0eAUfLf2
— Chris Skidmore (@CSkidmoreUK) October 28, 2021
“In the meantime, I now ask the that [sic] universities come forward and offer her a suitable position in their own faculty – we must stand up for free speech,” Donelan added via Twitter.
Donelan’s intervention drew a response on Twitter from her predecessor, Chris Skidmore, who pointed out that universities were autonomous when it came to recruitment: “The principle of autonomy for universities to employ staff is enshrined in law. Of course we can take all take [sic] our own positions. Regardless of individual cases, it is vital that we recognise the independence of the academy. Like the judiciary, it must be free from political interference.”