Gender identity row professor quits University of Sussex after ‘horrible time’

Kathleen Stock, who praised the university’s leadership, said she will be leaving after a difficult few years.

Unisex non-binary gender neutral signage (Martin Keene/PA)
Unisex non-binary gender neutral signage (Martin Keene/PA)

A professor at the centre of a row over her views on gender identity is leaving the University of Sussex.

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

But earlier this month, the University of Sussex vice-chancellor said the institution would not tolerate threats to “academic freedoms” following the campaign to remove Prof Stock from her position.

Prof Stock has announced that she will be leaving the University of Sussex after “an absolutely horrible time” and “a very difficult few years”.

The Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, called it a “sad day for freedom of speech” as she reiterated the importance of the Government’s Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill passing through Parliament.

It comes after an anonymous group, reportedly set up by students, launched a campaign to get Prof Stock sacked over her views on gender identification.

Posters calling for Prof Stock to be fired were reportedly put up near the campus, and an image emerged on social media of a campaigner holding a banner saying: “Stock Out”.

In an email to all staff, Prof Adam Tickell, the vice-chancellor of the University of Sussex, said: “The university has been consistent and clear that everyone in our community has the right to work and learn, free from bullying and harassment of any kind, which has not been the case for Professor Stock.

“We had hoped that Professor Stock would feel able to return to work, and we would have supported her to do so.

“She has decided that recent events have meant that this will not be possible, and we respect and understand that decision.”

He added: “When we published our congratulations to Professor Stock for being awarded an OBE in January this year, I mentioned how her work has its supporters and detractors.

“Rigorous academic challenge is welcome. However, we have seen an intolerance of her as a member of our community because of her work.

“This is now, and will always be, in direct opposition to even the most basic principles of academia.

“I would like to make it very clear that it is unlawful to discriminate against someone on the grounds of sex and of philosophical belief.

“Her departure is a loss to us all.”

Universities minister Michelle Donelan said on Twitter: “It is a sad day for freedom of speech – given the toxic environment at @sussexuni has made it untenable for @docstockk to maintain her position there.

“No academic should ever have to fear for their personal safety.

“This only reinforces the need for our Free Speech Bill.”

Earlier this month, Prof Stock accused a union branch of “effectively” ending her career after it called on her employer to take a “strong stance” against transphobia.

In a statement, the Sussex branch of the University and College Union (UCU) said all trans and non-binary members “now more than ever should receive the unequivocal support” of the University of Sussex.

Announcing her departure on Twitter on 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.”

She added: “This has been an absolutely horrible time for me and my family. I’m putting it behind me now. On to brighter things soon, I hope.”

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”.

In January, hundreds of academics criticised the decision to make Prof Stock an OBE for services to higher education in the New Year Honours.

In the open letter, the philosophers condemned academics who use their status to “further gender oppression” and said they denounced “transphobia in all its forms”.

A University of Sussex spokesman said: “Over the past several weeks, the University of Sussex has vigorously and unequivocally defended Professor Kathleen Stock’s right to exercise her academic freedom and lawful freedom of speech, free from bullying and harassment of any kind.

“These freedoms and protections apply to and benefit us all, and we will defend them today and in the future.”

He added: “There were no substantive allegations of wrongdoing made against her.

“Professor Stock leaves the University of Sussex with our gratitude for her significant contributions as a teacher and academic.”

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