More than 40 academics – including Professor Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist, and Professor Nigel Biggar, the theologian – have intervened in support of a planned appearance at the Oxford Union by Professor Kathleen Stock, a leading feminist, in a letter to the Telegraph. It comes after students have tried to cancel Prof. Stock’s talk, claiming that she is transphobic for disputing that ‘transwomen are women’. From the Telegraph:
The row at Oxford first erupted in April when the university’s LGBTQ+ society said it was “dismayed and appalled” that the debating society had “decided to platform the transphobic and trans exclusionary speaker Kathleen Stock”.
It accused the Union of “disregarding the welfare of its LGBTQ+ members under the guise of free speech”.
The Junior Common Rooms of Christ Church, St. Edmund Hall, St Anne’s and St. Hilda’s have backed the LGBTQ+ society and passed motions calling for her invite “to be rescinded in support of the trans community”.
The row escalated last week when Oxford’s Student Union (SU) voted to sever ties with the 200-year-old debating society, accusing it of having a “toxic culture of bullying and harassment”.
The move would prevent the Union from having a stall at the freshers’ fair, which is an important source of membership sign-ups that fund the debating society.
In a statement, the SU said “the motion was unrelated to Dr. Stock’s intended talk” and said that the professor was not discussed at the meeting.
It said it was “committed to freedom of expression and freedom of speech, and will defend the right of people to have controversial and unpopular ideas debated as an integral part of university life and the university experience”.
However, dons criticised the SU’s decision to cut ties with the Union.
Education minister Claire Coutinho has backed the dons on behalf of the Government. She said: “Student debaters shouldn’t be punished for encouraging the free exchange of ideas. Our newly passed Freedom of Speech Act will make sure that universities promote free speech and that those who have their free speech rights unlawfully restricted on campus can seek redress.”
The Union has said that the talk with Prof. Stock will go ahead despite planned protests. It will set up “welfare spaces” to help students cope with the gender debate.
Here’s the letter in full.
We are academics at the University of Oxford, possessed of a range of different political beliefs, Left and Right. We wholeheartedly condemn the decision of the Oxford University Student Union (Oxford SU) to sever its ties with the Oxford Union (the Union) after the latter’s refusal to rescind an invitation to the philosopher and gender-critical feminist Kathleen Stock.
Professor Stock believes that biological sex in humans is real and socially salient, a view which until recently would have been so commonplace as to hardly merit asserting. Whether or not one agrees with Professor Stock’s views, there is no plausible and attractive ideal of academic freedom, or of free speech more generally, which would condemn their expression as outside the bounds of permissible discourse. Unfortunately, the position of her opponents seems to be that Professor Stock’s views are so illicit that they cannot be safely discussed in front of an audience of consenting and intelligent adults at the main debating society at the University of Oxford. If this were the case, it is doubtful that they could be safely expressed anywhere – a result that, as her opponents are no doubt satisfied to find, would amount to their effective prohibition.
Fortunately, it has become clear that the Union’s capitulation cannot be secured by the usual methods of moralistic browbeating and social censure. However, Oxford SU is now threatening its financial model by seeking to prevent the Union from having a stall at future freshers’ fairs. This is dangerous territory. Universities exist, among other things, to promote free inquiry and the disinterested pursuit of the truth by means of reasoned argument. To resort to coercion and financial threats when unable to secure one’s preferred outcome in debate would represent a profound failure to live up to these ideals.
Universities must remain places where contentious views can be openly discussed. The salient alternative to this, one apparently favoured by many of Professor Stock’s opponents, is simply unacceptable: a state of affairs in which the institutions of a university collude to suppress the expression of controversial, but potentially true, viewpoints in an effort to prevent them from becoming more widely known.
- Dr Julius Grower, Faculty of Law and St Hugh’s College
- Dr Michael Biggs, Department of Sociology and St Cross College
- Dr Roger Teichmann, St Hilda’s College
- Professor Nigel Biggar, Regius Professor Emeritus of Moral Theology, Faculty of Theology
- Professor Jeff McMahan, Sekyra and White’s Professor of Moral Philosophy, Faculty of Philosophy and Corpus Christi College
- Dr Edward Howell, Department of Politics and International Relations and New College
- Dr Marie Kawthar Daouda, Oriel College
- Dr Jonathan Price, Faculty of Law and St Cross College
- Colin Mills, Department of Sociology and Nuffield College
- John Maier, Balliol College
- Dr Alexander Morrison, Faculty of History and New College
- Dr Richard Gipps, Blackfriars Hall
- Professor Carl Heneghan, Professor of Evidence-Based Medicine
- Kathryn Webb, Oxford Institute of Clinical Psychology Training and Research and Harris Manchester College
- Dr Tim Mawson, St Peter’s College
- Edward Hadas, Blackfriars Hall
- Professor Richard Dawkins, New College
- Professor Jonathan Jones, Department of Physics and Brasenose College
- Professor Lawrence Goldman, Emeritus Fellow, St Peter’s College
- Professor James Binney, Rudolf Peierls Centre for Theoretical Physics and Merton College
- James Forder, Balliol College
- Clive Hambler, Lecturer in Biology and Human Sciences, Hertford College
- Daniel Villar, Department of Biology
- Yuan Yi Zhu, Research Fellow, Harris Manchester College, and Nuffield College
- Professor Richard Ekins KC (Hon), Professor of Law and Constitutional Government, St John’s College
- Professor Julian Savulescu, Uehiro Chair of Practical Ethics, Faculty of Philosophy
- David Carpenter, Faculty of History
- Professor Timothy Williamson, Wykeham Professor of Logic, Faculty of Philosophy
- Daniel Kodsi, Trinity College
- Professor Susan Bright, Professor of Land Law, Faculty of Law
- Professor Joel David Hamkins, Professor of Logic, Associate Faculty Member, Faculty of Philosophy
- Dr Ruth Dixon, College Lecturer, the Queen’s College
- Professor John Tasioulas, Professor of Ethics and Legal Philosophy, Faculty of Philosophy and Balliol College
- Xenofon Kalogeropoulos, Faculty of Classics and St Anne’s College
- Jane Cooper, All Souls College
- Dr Abhijit Sarkar, Faculty of History
- Professor Edward Harcourt, Professor of Philosophy, Keble College
- Professor Michael Bentley, Senior Research Fellow, St Hugh’s College
- Professor Catharine Abell, Faculty of Philosophy and the Queen’s College
- Professor John Chalker, Department of Physics and St Hugh’s College
- Dr Sophie Allen, Faculty of Philosophy and St Peter’s College
- Professor Volker Halbach, Professor of Philosophy, New College
- Sir Noel Malcolm, All Souls College
- Aftab Mallick, Brasenose College