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Artillery Row

Failing their own

The University College Union is hounding members out of their jobs for holding gender-critical views

Two weeks ago saw a vicious campaign of intimidation directed at Kathleen Stock, a philosophy professor at the University of Sussex. “Anti Terf Sussex” hung posters at the campus entrance and set off smoke bombs; a masked protester held up a banner that read “Stock Out”. This campaign, repeated this past Saturday, sets out to threaten Stock’s safety while making demands of the university to terminate her position.

The UCU has failed to protect its own

While University of Sussex has supported Stock by issuing a statement that it “will not tolerate threats to cherished academic freedoms”, the Sussex branch of the University College Union (UCU) has not supported her safety or freedom. Failing to denounce the harassment of Stock, her former UCU branch instead sent a letter to its members extending solidarity to those who harassed her. Stock tweeted that the Sussex UCU had “effectively ended” her career at the university.

The UCU letter defies its mandate to protect academic freedoms, but this is not the first time the UCU has failed to protect its own on the subject of gender ideology.

Christian Wilton-King lost his job as an Austism Specialist Lecturer at Cardiff and Vale College in 2019 for his social media comments. Wilton-King had reacted to a tweet by trans activist Stephanie Hayden. “I questioned the arrest of Kate Scottow as being a waste of police time and how it was indicative of Hayden’s misogyny,” Wilton-King reports.

This sent Wilton-King’s career into peril when Cardiff and Vale College received doctored screenshots of his online interaction. Hayden contacted Wilton-King’s employer, claiming he had engaged in “targeted harassment”. Wilton-King reported, “These activists tracked me down via LinkedIn, looked through my FB posts, went through my Spotify playlists and questioned my ability to parent and do my job.” 

An anonymous person submitted screenshots of his social media posts

He describes how an anonymous person emailed the Education Workforce Council in the run-up to his Fitness to Practice panel and submitted screenshots of his social media posts, which expressed criticism of the transitioning of children and adolescents. “This led to the UCU dropping their support for me as they believed it made the case unwinnable and therefore not cost-effective,” he explains. The National Executive Committee Legal Panel of the UCU denied Wilton-King support for his legal fees. When he asked the UCU-appointed solicitors if they would continue to represent him without the UCU oversight:

“They just went quiet on me. I was abandoned by UCU at the very last minute leaving me to face a professional hearing on my own. Ten plus years of paying subscription fees to this union and they ditched me. My views, on the safeguarding of young autistic students who were at risk of being placed on medical pathways and being sterilised — which I had made clear in a plea for legal support — were apparently not in alignment with their own ideals.”

After Jo Phoenix launched the Gender Critical Research Network (GCRN) at the Open University this summer, her local UCU sent all its members an email noting the distress that the GCRN allegedly aroused in trans-identified persons, stating that it had been in touch with the LGBQTi network to offer support to its members. Phoenix tells me, “I am a lesbian and I was a member of that network. I left because I was being accused of being ‘transphobic’ openly on the LGBTQi Yammer forum.” The local UCU claimed it was seeking clarification from senior management at the university and that it had met with the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion lead to advise on measures they would like in place, noting where people could get help and advice.

In this same email, the UCU linked to the GCRN webpage accompanied by a trigger warning; a defamatory open Google Doc that called the network “transphobic”, asking for the university to disaffiliate from the GCRN; a statement on academic freedom; a defamatory LSE Gender Studies statement about GCRN that the LSE removed and subsequently investigated; and a student statement that sought signatures for another open letter making similar demands. The Google Doc received almost 380 signatures from staff across the university. 

Phoenix declares:

“I have nothing but contempt for the members of our trade union who take part in the vilification of any gender-critical academic. They seem quite happy to cavalierly trash the hard fought employment rights we have and the critically necessary academic freedom obligations placed on universities. How dare Sussex UCU say these rights are being instrumentalised against trans people! Do they not realise just how shortsighted that strategy is? Today it is gender-critical women. Tomorrow it could be them. It’s almost like they want a Chinese cultural revolution style purge of universities of ‘wrong think.’” 

She continues, “Mostly I mourn for Kathleen Stock. If they can do that to her, what will they do to me? These people are trashing our academic culture and values. And for what? Who will be left when this is over? Who will be left to bring on the next generation of critical thinkers able to debate and discuss?”

“This is the worst case of bullying and witch hunt seen by those trying to support me”

A university professor, who cannot be named because this person’s personal position could be negatively and seriously impacted, is also in the crosshairs at another UCU branch. This professor tells me, “My UCU branch has been supporting initiatives led by colleagues seeking to disrupt my appointment and work since before I had even taken up my post. I have a copy of a letter signed by the UCU branch secretary in which they specifically name me, make complaints in relation to their motion on trans inclusion and threaten to seek support for their complaints from the wider university community and University Executive if their allegations about me — for which they produced no evidence — are not acted upon.”

This source continues:

“For months, UCU officers and members persistently sought to undermine me in group emails, made false and damaging claims about my views to colleagues, pressured others to join their campaigns to oppose my appointment and work. My branch initiates and goes along with threats to my job because of falsely-alleged ‘transphobia’ even though this goes against basic union values of defending members’ jobs. Individual members have said they’re at a loss as to how offer support and at least one union rep resigned their office, too afraid to speak out in UCU meetings where threats to my job were being strategised. The case was deemed too sensitive to be dealt with at branch level and reached regional level.

“UCU regional staff struggled to support me, claiming to be too busy. I suspect they were compromised by UCU policy and the hostile culture on trans issues as surely nothing is more important than defending a longstanding member from losing their job in what is the worst case of bullying and witch hunt that had been seen by those trying to support me.”

This professor concludes, “The union is hounding members out of their jobs for holding gender-critical views. Members who hold such views are being ostracised, alienated and feeling threatened.”

I reached out to the Sussex UCU and the national UCU offices. They did not return my emails or calls.

A chilling atmosphere prevails within academic walls, buttressed by the UCU. While Kathleen Stock, Jo Phoenix and my unnamed source are three of the more gentle critics of gender ideology, whereas Wilton-King is more on the side of refusing the prescriptive language that this lobby advances, one thing is certain: The UCU is failing its mission to protect free speech and academic freedom.

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