Oxford students try to deplatform Kathleen Stock and punish the university group inviting her

May 19, 2023 • 9:45 am

Kathleen Stock was a professor at Sussex until she was forced to resign after being harassed and ostracized for her views on gender. I don’t know much about her except she’s a serious and honored scholar with views that are opposed by gender activists, and that is sufficient reason to defend Stock’s right to free speech. That right includes the right not to be shouted down or deplatformed if she has a valid invitation to speak.  But that appears to be difficult if you’re involved in the gender wars.

Here’s what Wikipedia says about her:

Kathleen Mary Linn Stock OBE is a British philosopher and writer. She was a professor of philosophy at the University of Sussex until 2021. She has published academic work on aesthetics, fiction, imagination, sexual objectification, and sexual orientation.

Her views on transgender rights and gender identity have become a contentious issue. In December 2020, she was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in recognition of services to higher education, a decision which was subsequently criticised by a group of over 600 academic philosophers who argued that Stock’s “harmful rhetoric” contributed to the marginalisation of transgender people. In October 2021, she resigned from the University of Sussex.  This came after a student campaign took place calling for her dismissal and the faculty trade union accused the university of “institutional transphobia.”  A group of over 200 academic philosophers from the UK signed an open letter in support of Stock’s academic freedom.

An OBE is not to be taken lightly! Stock is also a “gender nonconforming lesbian”.  As far as I can see, her views align with those of J. K. Rowling, questioning the rights of transgender women only insofar as they encroach on essential rights that devolve only on natal women.  And, again as far as I know, she left Sussex because, in view of the harassment, bullying and pervasive calls for her to be fired, she did not feel safe on campus, the University administration didn’t lift its finger to defend her. In view of this ostracism, Stock got panic attacks and suffered a mental breakdown. Unable to do her job, she therefore left Susses. Apparently, Stock’s academic freedom did not outweigh her “harmful rhetoric” or right to not be harassed.  Here’s a bit from a Guardian article about her:

In a lengthy interview with BBC Woman’s Hour, Kathleen Stock claimed the student protests grew out of hostility from other academics. She said a lack of support from her colleagues and the unions led her to resign.

“There’s a small group of people who are absolutely opposed to the sorts of things I say and instead of getting involved in arguing with me, using reason, evidence, the traditional university methods, they tell their students in lectures that I pose a harm to trans students, or they go on to Twitter and say that I’m a bigot.

“So thus creating an atmosphere in which the students then become much more extreme and much more empowered to do what they did,” Stock said.

Stock said her “personal tipping point” came after Sussex’s branch of the University and College Union responded to a protest against Stock on campus in early October by calling for a university-wide investigation into transphobia.

“It was when I saw my own union branch’s statement, which basically backed the protesters and implicitly made it obvious that they thought I was transphobic and accused Sussex University of institutional transphobia,” Stock said.

“When union committee members basically back intimidation against you as an employee, then that’s a bit of a blow.”

Again so long as her views are debatable—which they are, as the dons below emphasize—Stock should be given the right to be heard, not be deplatformed, and above all be heard by those who oppose her.

I asked Emma Hilton about Stock, and got this response (quoted by permission):

Now Kathleen writes and teaches at University of Austin. And speaks publicly, like at Oxford. She recently debated at Cambridge, and one of the students on her side of the debate spent half of his talk blasting her. I was in Italy with her a couple of months back. She’s warm, funny as hell, great company and it’s just unreal that the image of her as a monster was allowed to take hold.  

No matter whether you agree with her views, and even in view of Britain’s lack of a First Amendment, it’s wrong to try to deplatform Stock. But this, according to the Torygraph article below, is precisely what Oxford students tried to do when Stock was invited to debate at the Oxford Union, the university’s famous debating society.  That she is just one of several people involved in a verbal to-and-fro is not sufficient for the protesting students.  One side of the debate cannot be allowed to be give ! These students are immature, acting like children stoppering their ears when they hear something they don’t like. Worse: they are trying to stopper other people’s ears!

Click to read. If the article is paywalled, I found an archived version here:

The attempt to deplatform her  has been fought by 40 academics (see Dawkins’s tweet below), and this attempt has been connected with the Oxford Student Union (different from the Oxford Union) voted to sever ties with the Oxford Union, which would deny the latter a booth at the fresher’s fair that’s essential in recruiting students. From the Torygraph:

Oxford dons have warned students that freedom of speech is at risk as a trans row engulfs the university.

More than 40 academics – including Prof Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist, and Prof Nigel Biggar, the theologian – have intervened in support of a planned appearance at the Oxford Union by Prof Kathleen Stock, a leading feminist, in a letter to The Telegraph.

In the biggest row to erupt at the university since Rhodes Must Fall, students have tried to cancel Prof Stock’s talk – claiming that she is transphobic for her view that it is fiction to claim “transwomen are women”.

It comes amid a spate of free speech rows at universities featuring speakers with gender-critical views – including attempts by the University of Bristol to ban the public from a feminist society talk and activists at the University of Edinburgh preventing a screening of a women’s rights documentary.

The view that “transwomen are women” is certainly a debatable one; we’ve debated it here. It can be construed in several ways: are transwomen equivalent to biological women, and should be called “women”; do they have all the rights and privileges of biological women, most notably the “right” to compete in sports against biological women, or to be incarcerated in women’s prisons? And so on.  Society desperately needs to thrash out these issues because, given the skyrocketing rate of transitioning—particularly from biological men to trans women—the issues are only going to get more pressing.

Here’s Richard’s tweet, and I’ve put the faculty letter below, adding the signers below the fold. There’s also a student letter here.

More from the Torygraph:

The letter from the Oxford dons is one of the most significant interventions by academics in recent controversies over free speech on campus.

They say they possess “a range of different political beliefs, Left and Right”, but are united in their belief that “universities exist, among other things, to promote free inquiry and the disinterested pursuit of the truth by means of reasoned argument”.

The letter adds: “Professor Stock believes that biological sex in humans is real and socially salient, a view which until recently would have been so commonplace as to hardly merit asserting.

. . .The row at Oxford first erupted in April when the university’s LGBTQ+ society said it was “dismayed and appalled” that the debating society had “decided to platform the transphobic and trans exclusionary speaker Kathleen Stock”.

It accused the Union of “disregarding the welfare of its LGBTQ+ members under the guise of free speech”.

The Junior Common Rooms of Christ Church, St Edmund Hall, St Anne’s and St Hilda’s have backed the LGBTQ+ society and passed motions calling for her invite “to be rescinded in support of the trans community”.

The row escalated last week when Oxford’s Student Union (SU) voted to sever ties with the 200-year-old debating society, accusing it of having a “toxic culture of bullying and harassment”.

The move would prevent the Union from having a stall at the freshers’ fair, which is an important source of membership sign-ups that fund the university.

But there is some hope:

The Union has said that the talk with Prof Stock will go ahead despite planned protests. It will set up “welfare spaces” to help students cope with the gender debate.

The university said it “does not support the no-platforming of any lawful speech at university events or on university premises”.

It is understood that trustees of the SU have written to the Union and could reverse the move to ban the debating society from the fresher’s fair after the university sought to understand the decision and uphold its free speech duties.

The faculty letter is below, with the list of signers (given in the Torygraph) below the fold. Note that the letter emphasizes the diversity of political views among the dons, and is basically a simple defense of free speech and of the right to debate controversial issues,  as well as a condemnation of the Student Union for punishing the Oxford Union.  I can’t see anything objectionable about the letter, or about Stock’s appearance, particularly because it’s a debate, Jack, and one side is given the opportunity to go after Stock’s views.  It appears that many extreme gender activists have reached the point where they believe that anyone who disagrees with them should be censored.  Here’s the faculty letter:


We are academics at the University of Oxford, possessed of a range of different political beliefs, Left and Right. We wholeheartedly condemn the decision of the Oxford University Student Union (Oxford SU) to sever its ties with the Oxford Union (the Union) after the latter’s refusal to rescind an invitation to the philosopher and gender-critical feminist Kathleen Stock.

Professor Stock believes that biological sex in humans is real and socially salient, a view which until recently would have been so commonplace as to hardly merit asserting. Whether or not one agrees with Professor Stock’s views, there is no plausible and attractive ideal of academic freedom, or of free speech more generally, which would condemn their expression as outside the bounds of permissible discourse. Unfortunately, the position of her opponents seems to be that Professor Stock’s views are so illicit that they cannot be safely discussed in front of an audience of consenting and intelligent adults at the main debating society at the University of Oxford. If this were the case, it is doubtful that they could be safely expressed anywhere – a result that, as her opponents are no doubt satisfied to find, would amount to their effective prohibition.

Fortunately, it has become clear that the Union’s capitulation cannot be secured by the usual methods of moralistic browbeating and social censure. However, Oxford SU is now threatening its financial model by seeking to prevent the Union from having a stall at future freshers’ fairs. This is dangerous territory. Universities exist, among other things, to promote free inquiry and the disinterested pursuit of the truth by means of reasoned argument. To resort to coercion and financial threats when unable to secure one’s preferred outcome in debate would represent a profound failure to live up to these ideals.

Universities must remain places where contentious views can be openly discussed. The salient alternative to this, one apparently favoured by many of Professor Stock’s opponents, is simply unacceptable: a state of affairs in which the institutions of a university collude to suppress the expression of controversial, but potentially true, viewpoints in an effort to prevent them from becoming more widely known.


h/t: Emma

Click “read more” to see the academics who signed.

Here are the Oxford academics who signed the letter:


Dr Julius Grower, Faculty of Law and St Hugh’s College

Dr Michael Biggs, Department of Sociology and St Cross College

Dr Roger Teichmann, St Hilda’s College

Professor Nigel Biggar, Regius Professor Emeritus of Moral Theology, Faculty of Theology

Professor Jeff McMahan, Sekyra and White’s Professor of Moral Philosophy, Faculty of Philosophy and Corpus Christi College

Dr Edward Howell, Department of Politics and International Relations and New College

Dr Marie Kawthar Daouda, Oriel College

Dr Jonathan Price, Faculty of Law and St Cross College

Colin Mills, Department of Sociology and Nuffield College

John Maier, Balliol College

Dr Alexander Morrison, Faculty of History and New College

Dr Richard Gipps, Blackfriars Hall

Professor Carl Heneghan, Professor of Evidence-Based Medicine

Kathryn Webb, Oxford Institute of Clinical Psychology Training and Research and Harris Manchester College

Dr Tim Mawson, St Peter’s College

Edward Hadas, Blackfriars Hall

Professor Richard Dawkins, New College

Professor Jonathan Jones, Department of Physics and Brasenose College

Professor Lawrence Goldman, Emeritus Fellow, St Peter’s College

Professor James Binney, Rudolf Peierls Centre for Theoretical Physics and Merton College

James Forder, Balliol College

Clive Hambler, Lecturer in Biology and Human Sciences, Hertford College

Daniel Villar, Department of Biology

Yuan Yi Zhu, Research Fellow, Harris Manchester College, and Nuffield College

Professor Richard Ekins KC (Hon), Professor of Law and Constitutional Government, St John’s College

Professor Julian Savulescu, Uehiro Chair of Practical Ethics, Faculty of Philosophy

David Carpenter, Faculty of History

Professor Timothy Williamson, Wykeham Professor of Logic, Faculty of Philosophy

Daniel Kodsi, Trinity College

Professor Susan Bright, Professor of Land Law, Faculty of Law

Professor Joel David Hamkins, Professor of Logic, Associate Faculty Member, Faculty of Philosophy

Dr Ruth Dixon, College Lecturer, the Queen’s College

Professor John Tasioulas, Professor of Ethics and Legal Philosophy, Faculty of Philosophy and Balliol College

Xenofon Kalogeropoulos, Faculty of Classics and St Anne’s College

Jane Cooper, All Souls College

Dr Abhijit Sarkar, Faculty of History

Professor Edward Harcourt, Professor of Philosophy, Keble College

Professor Michael Bentley, Senior Research Fellow, St Hugh’s College

Professor Catharine Abell, Faculty of Philosophy and the Queen’s College

Professor John Chalker, Department of Physics and St Hugh’s College

Dr Sophie Allen, Faculty of Philosophy and St Peter’s College

Professor Volker Halbach, Professor of Philosophy, New College

Sir Noel Malcolm, All Souls College

Aftab Mallick, Brasenose College

21 thoughts on “Oxford students try to deplatform Kathleen Stock and punish the university group inviting her

  1. I don’t understand why people like Stock don’t sue for defamation individuals or groups that label them as transphobic or say that they are endangering people. Let them prove that in court. Or pay. I seem to recall that Rowling threatened some online toughs with lawyers and they quickly clarified their remarks.

    1. Mostly because an accusation like “transphobic” amounts to an opinion, which is not actionable, rather than a fact, which would be.

      1. Well, David Irving sued Deborah Lipstadt for calling him an anti-semite, which could be considered an opinion. He lost, not because it was an opinion, but because it was true.

        1. That is not true. Lipstadt made a number of specific allegations against Irving. None of them were “he’s an anti-semite” or even “in my opinion he is an anti-semite”. Of course, if you believed the allegations, you could easily infer that Irving was an anti-semite but that isn’t what she had to defend.

          Lipstadt won her case by proving the specific allegations were true.

        2. The wiki page on this says that there was a lot more to it than her calling him an “anti-Semite” (which I don’t think would be actionable in itself), with the main accusation being that he falsified historical evidence. Quote from that page:

          “… Mr. Justice Gray, who produced a written judgment 349 pages long in favour of the defendants, in which he detailed Irving’s systematic distortion of the historical record of the Holocaust and Hitler’s role therein. “

        3. The outcome of a legal case may depend on the definition of “transphobia.” Stonewall, the largest LGBTQ+ charity organization in Great Britain and the one with the most power and prestige, defines it thus:

          Transphobia is the fear or dislike of someone based on the fact they are trans, including denying their gender identity or refusing to accept it.

          (Bolding mine) Their definition of “transphobic bullying” includes repeatedly causing emotional harm.

          1. That definition covers pretty well everything including rejecting them as possible sexual partners. The legal definition of transphobia must not be left in in the self-serving hands of activists who will use it as a weapon to suppress debate or thwart justice. I would be worried more that it provides a ground for a charge of hate speech than that it would make civil lawsuits for slander easier for trans activists to defend themselves against.

            A lesbian woman or a straight man who says, “I won’t date transwomen because they aren’t women,” is guilty of transphobia. That can’t be what we want unless we are going to wear the transphobia badge with pride.

  2. About the “fiction” that transwomen are women, Stock means a literary fiction. Something one can choose to agree with for a specific purpose and time, even though the thing is false. She explained this distinction (and much more) in her interview with Coleman Hughes on his podcast. Worth a listen.

    1. Mike, I heard Stock refer to the fiction in two different ways which she eluded. One is in the sense of a social construct, where we pretend for adaptive reasons that a (limited liability) corporation is a person so it can obey laws, get sued, pay taxes, borrow money, and go bankrupt, all independent of the physical lives of the human beings who are its directors and shareholders. The corporation lives on after all the humans who founded it have died. A corporation is legally a person so that it doesn’t escape the obligations placed on persons generally, by becoming a non-person.

      The other way she used it was in the sense of a literary fiction. Although she didn’t elaborate this sense, I think it was closer to what she meant by trans fictions. When the author of a novel places her imaginary protagonist/narrator at the Cairo Conference, going on a painting jaunt in the desert with Winston Churchill and inserting herself in one of the official photos of the event: “that’s me, off at the left end, beside the camel”, we know totally it’s not really her (but, charmingly, it could have been!). We suspend our disbelief in order to enjoy the story, knowing what we are doing.

      So when she says we choose to agree with the fiction that transwomen are women (i.e., they are a subset of adult human females), we are only pretending to believe it. At no point do we really believe it, not even for a moment, in the way we believe always that corporations really should obey the law and pay their taxes. Instead we profess belief as a conflict-reducing device in that which we know to be false, provided the costs aren’t too high. Everyone at a high enough security clearance knows who bombed the Nord Stream Pipelines but it has to remain officially a mystery for diplomatic reasons.

      Very much worth a listen. Thanks.

  3. Mobs like this remind me of the horrible scene I witnessed one spring in the garden—a murder of crows collaborating brutally to peck a baby rabbit to death. Human behavior should be better than this.

  4. The worst of it is that in this instance the crows think they are angels of justice and goodness.

  5. It seems that the LGBTQ+ “community” is undergoing a split between a trans zealot faction and a gender-critical feminist faction. Shades of the 1930s Left, when Stalinists and Trotskyists sometimes came to blows. Of course, there was a happy ending when these two sects came together again (like Jeckyll and Hyde) under the sponsorship of Jeremy Corbyn and the Stop the War Coalition in old London town.

  6. Kathleen Stock has a Substack, but she hasn’t been posting regularly on it.
    Jerry’s use of the apt term “immature” reminds me of Immanuel Kant:
    “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity.[2] Immaturity is
    the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity
    is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and
    courage to use it without guidance from another. Sapere Aude![3] “Have courage to use
    your own understanding!”–that is the motto of enlightenment.”

  7. Hi Jerry. In their letter to The Telegraph Dr Grower and his colleagues complain that the Oxford University Student Union (SU) has severed ties with the Oxford Union (OU) in protest at its hosting Kathleen Stock. But the SU has done no such thing. Indeed it has issued a statement explaining that the story has been misreported (https://www.oxfordsu.org/news/article/6013/Corrections-and-Clarifications-from-Oxford-SU/ and https://twitter.com/OxfordStudents/status/1657799510674817038?s=20). It has severed ties with the OU because of ‘long-standing concerns relating to alleged bullying, sexual harassment, discrimination and data privacy breaches’. The letter that has been circulated among University of Oxford students today acknowledges this but claims that the SU’s decision ‘is seen by many to be punishment for the Oxford Union standing by its decisions and principles.’ So it may be. But there appears to be no evidence for this belief.

    1. Well, thanks for this. Of course, if they did want to disassociate themselves from the OU because of Stock, they wouldn’t say that, would they? You may be right, but I’m not 100% sure. I hope you’re right.

  8. Idea: Include details of the lengths to which students go to honor their values by shutting down other students and academics in their pursuit of social justice, on the transcripts of the students themselves. If they are serious about signalling their virtue, they should have no problem being thus visible, their virtue going down in history for future generations, up-and-coming social justice warriors, and future employers, all to see.

    Sorry- I meant to type “Social Justice Warriors”…

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