Professors bullied into silence as students cry transphobia The Sunday Times 17.08.19

The original article is here.

More than a dozen academics, including several leading feminist professors, fear their freedom of speech is being silenced by students complaining they are transphobic.

They include Selina Todd, a professor of modern history at Oxford, and Kate Newey, professor of theatre history at Exeter. Rosa Freedman, professor of law conflict and global development, is believed to be under scrutiny at Reading University, and Kathleen Stock, professor of philosophy, has faced several formal complaints organised by students at Sussex. Some of the women, along with other academics, say questioning of transgender policies is being censored on campus.

Typical LGBT policies adopted by universities include the use of gender-neutral pronouns such as them/they and “ey” and “zie” as well as support for gender-neutral lavatories and changing rooms for those transitioning. Some universities also support the idea that people should be able to self-identify as male or female.

Todd, vice-principal of St Hilda’s College, Oxford, initially faced a complaint backed by a Facebook petition about comments she had made on social media. That grievance was dismissed by the university. Now, however, she has been told by students she will face a campaign in the autumn for her to be sacked.

“It is intimidating and isolating,” Todd said. “The view of these activists is that anyone who feels themselves to be a woman should be allowed to call themselves such. Questioning that desire is seen as hate speech that could be harmful. To me that is censorship.”

Stock says she has faced several “formal complaints against me organised by students, using public student Facebook groups to co-ordinate activity”. Now she is compiling cases of other academics who have had to defend themselves to their employers.

“I know of at least a dozen cases of students complaining to university managers about lecturers’ alleged ‘transphobia,’” she said. “In the face of this, it is tempting to many to just keep their heads down — including me. Yet this is a disaster. We desperately need scrutiny of emerging social, legal, medical, and sports policies in this area.”

Freedman is understood to be under investigation after students and members of the public alleged that her social media activity made her a danger to trans students. The academic denies transphobia. When contacted this week, she declined to confirm or deny whether proceedings were ongoing at her university.

Newey was placed under the microscope last year after students complained about tweets she had posted about the rights of women. “The university jumped straight to a formal complaint procedure,” she said. Several months later it decided against disciplinary action.

“It was stressful. I was told I couldn’t talk to anyone about it,” Newey said.

At Huddersfield University, a PhD researcher is under investigation after a student complained that his Twitter account was “transphobic”. Jonathan Best, 49, denies the allegation and says the complaints procedure is being used to stifle his academic freedom. “I am being bullied into silence,” he said.

Associate professor Chloë Houston, 39, who lectures in early modern drama at Reading University, escaped a formal investigation, but says her superiors had to address allegations from students that she was “breaching a safe space” for trans students simply by her presence.

“I only learnt about the complaints when the students concerned tweeted about having met the head of department . . . with concerns my department would no longer be a safe space for trans students,” she explained.

A spokesman for Huddersfield said it would be inappropriate to comment. Reading, Oxford, Exeter and Sussex universities said they were obliged to investigate any complaints, particularly in relation to discrimination and the equality act, and supported fostering a diverse and trans-friendly culture.


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