The Prime Minister has intervened in the row over Kathleen Stock’s speaking engagement at the Oxford Union later today, saying the “vocal few” must not be allowed to stifle debate. The Telegraph has more.
Rishi Sunak has said that Prof Kathleen Stock has a right to be heard as he urged students to engage with the feminist academic’s views even if they disagree with her.
Prof Stock, who believes trans women are not women, is set to take part in an event at the Oxford Union on Tuesday evening, but her invitation sparked a backlash from trans activists.
In a rare intervention into a campus free speech row, the Prime Minister told the Telegraph that the vocal few must not be allowed to shut down debate and that universities must support, not stifle, contentious discussion.
He said: “A free society requires free debate. We should all be encouraged to engage respectfully with the ideas of others.
“University should be an environment where debate is supported, not stifled. We mustn’t allow a small but vocal few to shut down discussion. Kathleen Stock’s invitation to the Oxford Union should stand.
“Agree or disagree with her, Professor Stock is an important figure in this argument. Students should be allowed to hear and debate her views.”
He added: “A tolerant society is one which allows us to understand those we disagree with, and nowhere is that more important than within our great universities.”
The row which has engulfed Oxford University has become emblematic of the wider debate over freedom of speech in society
In the coming days, the Prime Minister is set to unveil Prof Arif Ahmed of Cambridge University as the director of freedom of speech and academic freedom, charged with cracking down on the no-platforming of academics.
It is understood security measures will be in place for Prof Stock’s appearance, as protests have been planned.
The Union is a private members’ club that University of Oxford students and others pay to join. It is independent of the university and the student union. It said its attendees will have an “opportunity to respectfully engage and challenge” Prof Stock’s views at the event, as well as being able to ask questions anonymously.
More than 40 academics, including Prof Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist, and Prof Nigel Biggar, the theologian, wrote a letter to the Telegraph earlier this month in which they supported Prof Stock’s appearance.
Oxford University later intervened to protect free speech. The university’s student union had said it would ban the Oxford Union from its freshers’ fair, accusing the historic debating society of having a “toxic culture of bullying and harassment”.
However, the student union reversed its position after the university reminded its trustees of its free speech policy.
Worth reading in full.
I’ll be at the Oxford Union later to show solidarity with Kathleen Stock.
Stop Press: Watch the former philosophy professor rebut the accusation that her belief that sex is binary and immutable makes her an “extremist” because it “upsets people”. Eloquent and persuasive.
Stop Press 2: Brendan O’Neill, writing in the Mail, says the push back against attempts to cancel Kathleen Stock is the beginning of a pro-free speech counter-revolution on Britain’s campuses. Let’s hope so!
Stop Press 3: Kathleen Stock’s talk at the Union went ahead, but it was disrupted by trans rights activists, one of whom glued her hand to the floor in front of Professor Stock and had to be removed by police before the talk could continue. The Mail has more.