Kathleen Stock: University to be investigated after trans row professor forced to quit

Kathleen Stock
Kathleen Stock

Kathleen Stock was targeted by activists over her views on gender identity

Published

An investigation has been launched by a watchdog into the University of Sussex after an academic at the centre of a trans row was forced to quit.

The inquiry by the Office for Students will look into whether the institution met its “obligations on academic freedom and freedom of speech”, Parliament was told.

The move follows the resignation of Kathleen Stock, a professor of philosophy, who was targeted by activists over her views on gender identity.

Prof Stock, who faced death threats and accusations of transphobia, which she denied, announced she would be leaving the University of Sussex last month after a “horrible time”.

Posters calling for her to be sacked had also been put up around the campus.

Prof Stock has now accepted a role at a new university in America.

Pressed in the House of Lords over the resignation of Prof Stock, education minister Baroness Barran told peers: “The Office for Students informed the Department for Education on November 11 that it has decided to open an investigation into whether the University of Sussex has met its obligations on academic freedom and freedom of speech.”

She added: “No academic should have to fear for their personal safety, particularly as a consequence of expressing lawful views.

“This incident demonstrates why this Government is pressing ahead with legislation to promote and defend freedom of speech on campuses.”

Prof Stock, who has been in her post at Sussex for nearly 20 years, had previously said she is “at odds” with some academics as she believes gender identity is not more important than facts about biological sex “particularly when it comes to law and policy”.

Raising Prof Stock’s case in the upper chamber, Labour peer Lord Hunt of Kings Heath said: “She has been vilified by colleagues, abused by students, unsupported by a union and really let down by a university, which was far too late to defend her.

“Other academics in many other universities are facing similar abuse, particularly women, for basically gender critical views.”

He added: “However much legislation you have, you need to have confidence in our universities to show some strength in defending their academics. What is the Government going to do about that?”

Lady Barran said: “He is absolutely right to condemn the abuse that many academics, particularly women, have suffered recently.”

Restrictions on lawful speech and academic freedom “goes against the fundamental principles of English higher education,” she said.

She added: “The new Higher of Education Freedom of Speech Bill, will strengthen existing freedom of speech duties and will address the gaps that exist within the current law, including the lack of a clear enforcement mechanism.

“That will bring with it clear consequences for providers and student unions who breach these new duties.”

Following Prof Stock’s resignation, University of Sussex vice-chancellor Prof Adam Tickell said her departure was “a loss to us all”.