UEA has rescheduled a seminar by controversial academic Prof Kathleen Stock for May 7. It comes as the education secretary told universities they must work harder to protect free speech or face new laws to enforce it. Gavin Williamson wrote in an article for The Times universities must “do more to promote the right culture” as “too often, activists’ threats are able to shut down events”.
SU officers at UEA have accused Prof Stock of holding “views on gender identity [that] amount to transphobia”, which they say proves she would be “an inappropriate speaker” at UEA.
The university postponed the original seminar last month on security grounds after fears trans activists would protest.
A spokesperson for Uea(su) said they felt “significant levels of disappointment that this speaker was invited in the first place”.
They added: “There is a fundamental difference between no platforming a speaker and simply choosing not to invite them. We know that freedom of speech is a fundamental part of academia and university life, and we do not dispute or seek to undermine that.”
‘No platforming’ is the practice of preventing a person from speaking at a public event owing to their possibly controversial opinions.
Uea(su) have called on the Vice Chancellor to “stand against those who seek to undermine the human rights of trans people”, adding that in inviting Prof Stock they are “lending legitimacy” to her views.
Prof Stock told Concrete claims by Uea(su)’s officers’ that a lecture by her “would not create a safe, respectful and inclusive environment for trans students” are “just not true”.
She said: “I have some philosophical issues with the idea that a woman is anyone who feels like a woman because I think there are costs to this view for women, children, and gay people, which I try to respectfully explore in my work. This isn’t ‘anti-trans’ and it’s sensationalist and superficial of the Union to represent me this way. It’s also not fair on any of the many UEA students who disagree with them and agree with me. Disagreement isn’t bigotry.”
She added: “Universities are places where both good and bad ideas are properly stress-tested, and knowledge is then produced for the benefit of the public. They’re also places where students learn to think. You can’t have either of those things if talks are shut down just because a few people don’t like them.”
A spokesperson for UEA Pride said: “We hope that the rescheduling of Prof Stock’s seminar will not legitimise and embolden people to spread harmful transphobic sentiment on campus or online”.
The university said they have a “legal duty” to allow people to voice all lawful opinions on campus. A spokesperson for the university said: “The research seminar, as with all such events, is an opportunity for philosophy academics and philosophy [post-graduate researchers] to consider and critique the paper presented.
“Academic enquiry must involve engaging and challenging mainstream and alternative views.”
In a statement they added: “UEA is committed to standing up for human rights and inclusion. UEA is a place where people are free to express themselves and know that others will stand up for those rights.
“UEA will stand up for the rights of our transgender community and their right to be who they are. This is not a matter for debate.”