Education minister ‘horrified’ as professor steps down after trans rights row

Education minister Michelle Donelan said a new bill will 'ensure that universities not only protect free speech but promote free speech.'
Education minister Michelle Donelan said a new bill will 'ensure that universities not only protect free speech but promote free speech.'

Professor Stock, a philosophy professor at the University of Sussex, has faced calls to be sacked amid accusations of transphobia.

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Education minister Michelle Donelan has said she is “absolutely horrified” that a university professor has resigned due to her views on gender identity.

The minister said Professor Kathleen Stock had faced “sustained harassment and bullying”, and told the Commons the Government’s proposed Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill would “ensure that universities not only protect free speech but promote free speech”.

During education questions on Monday, Conservative MP Angela Richardson (Guildford) said: “Following the sustained campaign of bullying and harassment I was very sad to see that Professor Kathleen Stock decided to step down from Sussex University.

“Can the minister outline how the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill will uphold freedom of speech in our higher education institutions?”

Ms Donelan replied: “I would like to put on the record that I too was absolutely horrified with what has happened in regards to Professor Stock who has had to resign due to harassment, sustained harassment and bullying.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi and Minister for Higher and Further Education Michelle Donelan leaving Downing Street, London.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi and Minister for Higher and Further Education Michelle Donelan leaving Downing Street, London.

“This cannot be tolerated on our campuses, that is why this Government is delivering a free speech and academic freedom bill that will ensure that universities not only protect free speech but promote free speech.”

Professor Stock, a philosophy professor at the University of Sussex, has faced calls to be sacked amid accusations of transphobia.

Last week, she said she will be leaving her job after “an absolutely horrible time” and “a very difficult few years”.

Announcing her departure on Twitter last Thursday, Prof Stock said: “This has been a very difficult few years, but the leadership’s approach more recently has been admirable and decent. I hope that other institutions in similar situations can learn from this.

“Am particularly glad to see University emphasising that bullying and harassment anyone for their legally held beliefs is unacceptable in their workplace.”

Prof Stock has previously said she is “at odds” with a large section of academics as she believes gender identity is not more important than facts about biological sex, “particularly when it comes to law and policy”.

Her views led to a campaign, reportedly set up by students, calling for the professor to be sacked.

Equalities minister Kemi Badenoch has also spoken out about Professor Stock stepping down from her job.

Ms Badenoch told the Sky News’ Trevor Phillips On Sunday programme she was “appalled” at the way the professor has been treated, adding: “I went to Sussex University and I tweeted when I saw the university statement backing her, nobody should face bullying or harassment in the workplace.”

Ms Badenoch also insisted that while the Government does not believe in gender self-identification for trans people, there should be a process to get gender recognition certificates.