Hung out to dry

The University College Union’s treatment of Kathleen Stock is shameful

Artillery Row

Today the Sussex branch of the University College Union (SUCU) didn’t so much turn its back on Professor Kathleen Stock, as plant a knife in hers, right between the shoulder blades. 

A mild-mannered professor of philosophy, Stock has been hounded by extremist transgender activists for daring to challenge transgenderism’s central tenet: that “transwomen are women” and that biological sex is less important than identity. Despite attempts to find common ground in her book Material Girls: Why Reality Matters for Feminism, Stock has become public enemy No.1 to transgender extremists. 

In a furious declaration published online, a group called “Anti Terf Sussex” offered a sinister ultimatum: “Fire Kathleen Stock. Until then, you’ll see us around.” Protestors have gathered across the campus and posters and stickers demanding her resignation have been plastered across the university. Disturbingly, some members of staff have sided with students.

Those whom should have supported Stock chose to release a statement in support of her detractors

After turning a blind eye to the abuse to which Stock has been subjected for many years, this time senior staff at University of Sussex seemed to discover their backbone. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme Vice Chancellor Adam Tickell said:

…all of our staff have an untrammelled right to say and believe what they think… I am really concerned that we have masked protesters putting up posters calling for the sacking of someone exercising her right to express her views.

The university also released a statement on Twitter reiterating its support for freedom of expression, and emails were sent to students and staff reminding them of the importance of listening to a diverse range of opinions. An investigation into the bullying of Stock is ongoing.

This change in tack is undoubtedly in part due to the publication of the Reindorf Report, an investigation into the no-platforming of feminist academics (including Professor Stock) at University of Essex. The report was unequivocal, stating that universities are public bodies with a legal duty to protect academic freedom. It was also heavily critical of the influence of trans lobby group Stonewall.

Political figures, including equalities minister Kemi Badenoch and foreign secretary Liz Truss have also signalled their support for Stock, condemning the campaign of harassment against her.

But those to whom Stock ought to be able to turn for support, the union, chose instead to release a statement entitled “In Support of Trans and Non Binary Communities at Sussex” which calls for an “urgent investigation” into “institutional transphobia”. Whilst paying lip service to the need for academic freedom, the rambling screed complains that “public discourses regularly devalue the lives of trans and non binary people” and demands that the University leadership take a “clear and strong stance against transphobia.”

The UCU Secretary recently boasted on social media of using “TERF blocker” software

Stock quoted the text of the statement on Twitter, accusing SUCU of having effectively ended her career at Sussex University.

The Free Speech Union (FSU) has responded by urging academics to ditch traditional unions and join them instead. Director Toby Young said:

One of the original purposes of trade unions in the 19th century was to defend the speech rights of workers so they could criticise their bosses without being fired. Unfortunately, the vast majority of unions have lost sight of that in the past 25 years, with the UCU being the most egregious example. I would urge any academic concerned about their intellectual freedom to join the Free Speech Union instead. It’s much cheaper and we will actually stand up for the speech rights of our members.

Historically unions have had a “woman problem”, and for decades allowed themselves to operate as protection rackets for sexist men. Today, the UCU is headed by a general secretary Jo Grady. But Grady has made numerous derogatory comments about feminists like Stock. She recently boasted on social media of using “TERF blocker” software, stating: “Filtering out & muting people, is not the same as denying them free speech. It is simply removing them from my timeline & notifications, something which today I am grateful for.” Perhaps had she instead listened to women she is paid to represent (academics like Stock) she would not find such measures necessary.

Grady is much like her counterpart at the Metropolitan Police Cressida Dick, she is so used to swimming in sexism she no longer realises she’s wet. 

The SUCU have been approached for comment.

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