Kathleen Stock’s gruesome treatment shows that new laws alone cannot guarantee freedom of expression

This week, a gruesome dispute broke out at the University of Sussex. I call it a “fight,” but what happened is, in fact, the latest example of harassment, bigotry, and bullying masquerading as social justice. Professor Kathleen Stock, a philosophy professor at the institution, was attacked for her views on gender identity, to the point where she now has to worry about her own safety.

Stock, like most of the population, believes that biological sex should not be confused with gender; a position that formed the basis of his well received Material Girls: Why Reality Matters to Feminism. Like other feminist thinkers, such as Helen Joyce and Abigail Shrier, she has found herself at the forefront of a new genre of literature, reaffirming common sense, in a world where it has become controversial.

In fact, Stock’s perfectly conventional view of things has become heresy among some students. With Salem-style hysteria, the Sussexes considered her transphobic and put up posters on campus, asking the university to fire her. A group called “Anti Terf Sussex” described Stock as “one of the most prominent transphobics on this wretched island.” The ferocity of the threats against him is such that the police have had to ensure that if Stock calls 999, an officer will be immediately dispatched to his home.

As many will know, this is not an “atypical” college event; For years, a dangerous contagion has gripped Western academic institutions, whereby young, false liberals – liberals, as I call them – point the finger at anyone who blasphemes against their orthodoxy. That they have so much time for witch hunts says a lot about the lowering of teaching standards, as well as the lack of purpose that young people have in society at large.

However, all was not lost. Following Stock’s treatment, the University of Sussex did something quite extraordinary: it stood up for its own staff. Adam Tickell, vice-chancellor of the institution, said officials would investigate “activity on our campus that appears to have been designed to target Kathleen Stock for exercising her academic freedoms“, In a statement that angered his critics.

Tickell’s statement could be read in a number of ways. The optimist might say that managers have finally found a backbone. Government insiders, on the other hand, may see it as a sign that the proposal Freedom of expression bill, which aims to “strengthen the legal obligations of higher education providers in England to protect freedom of expression”, has landed. Universities increasingly know that they must redouble their efforts to defend academics.

Sadly, neither the Tickell leadership nor the Freedom of Expression Bill has prevented unions from supporting them. Sussex UCU soon issued a statement calling for “management to take a clear and strong stance against transphobia in Sussex.” The covert suggestion in all of this is that you have to deal with Stock. Later, he tweeted that UCU had “effectively ended [her] career at the University of Sussex ”.

I confess that I have not read Material girls – although he is next on my list – but in interviews I have found Stock to be measured, convincing and courageous; their completely hermetic and fair arguments regarding the balancing of the rights of different groups. As with many of these “culture wars”, the mob often appears to invent its own enemy. It projects false feelings and characteristics onto dissenters, to dehumanize them and make their arguments unworthy of being heard.

What is the government doing about it? Stock’s treatment certainly gives more urgency to the higher education (freedom of speech) bill, whose critics often dismiss it as unnecessary (we, on the right, are, of course, inventing a culture war). But perhaps the most forceful intervention came from Liz Truss, who tweeted in support of Stock, Baroness Falkner, head of the Human Rights Commission, who condemned the attack, and Michelle Donelan, who wrote persuasively today to The times on the matter.

Ultimately, we cannot legislate to get out of these censorship incidents, but we must do more as a society to speak out against Fiberals. It is the simplest way, but one that hurts politicians (would most of the cabinet get involved in the debacle at the University of Sussex?). Being weak in these matters has a pervasive effect. The debacle of the University of Sussex is, first and foremost, emblematic of our failed higher education system, but also symptomatic of a broader social disease that cannot continue.


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