STONEWALL ‘IS STIFLING ACADEMIC FREEDOM’ The Times 10.12.19

The original letter can be seen here.

Sir, We write in support of Rachel Ara, the artist no-platformed by Oxford Brookes University after students accused her of holding transphobic views (report, Nov 20). For a university to cancel a lecture at such short notice, in response to student criticism, demonstrates the censorious environment within UK universities with respect to discussion of sex and gender. Each of us questions, from various angles, the theory and practice associated with the notion of gender identity. Yet many universities apparently view this critical scrutiny as “transphobic”.

Most UK universities, including Oxford Brookes, are members of the Stonewall Diversity Champions scheme, and as a requirement have produced university policies framed by Stonewall’s political position on gender identity. These go well beyond equality law and in our view come into conflict with English and Scottish laws protecting academic freedom. In this context, it is not surprising that Oxford Brookes no-platformed Ms Ara so hastily.

Present university policies put academics who question the political position of Stonewall at risk of formal complaint, as well as wider harassment. This is to the detriment of society, for there is general public confusion about sex and gender and their social and political implications.

We therefore urge universities, including Oxford Brookes, to retract any policies prejudicial to discussion and the production of knowledge in this area and observe their legal duty to uphold academic freedom.

Professor Kathleen Stock, University of Sussex; Simon Fanshawe, former chairman of Sussex University Council and a founding member of Stonewall; Professor Philip Hensher, Bath Spa University; Dr. Susan Matthews, University of Roehampton; Dr. Kath Murray, University of Edinburgh; Professor Selina Todd, University of Oxford; Professor Kathleen Richardson, De Montfort University; Professor John Collins, UEA; Dr Heather Brunskell-Evans, spokeswoman for FILIA; Dr. Jane Clare Jones, Institute of Feminist Thought; Professor Alice Sullivan, UCL; Dr. Sarah Honeychurch, University of Glasgow; Dr Sophie Allen, Keele University; Professor Debbie Epstein, University of Roehampton (retired); Dr. Holly Smith, Institute of Education; Dr. Jon Pike, Open University; Maureen O’Hara, Coventry University; Professor Jo Phoenix, Open University; Lisa Mackenzie, MurrayBlackburnMackenzie Policy Collective; Dr. Shereen Benjamin, University of Edinburgh; Professor Michele Moore, London South Bank University; Nina Edge, Liverpool John Moores University; Professor Lesley Gourlay, Institute of Education; Richard Garside; Dr. Michael Biggs, University of Oxford; Professor Sian Sullivan, Bath Spa University; Dr Mary Leng, University of York; Dr Patrick Turner, Bath Spa University; Professor Deborah Cameron, Oxford University; Dr Laetitia Pichevin, University of Edinburgh; Professor Judith Suissa, UCL; Dr. Ruth McGinity, UCL