Rishi Sunak, the UK Prime Minister, has come forward in support of Professor Kathleen Stock’s right to free speech despite her contentious views on trans women. Prof. Stock, who has asserted that trans women are not women, is set to participate in an event at the Oxford Union, inciting backlash from trans activists. Sunak defended the importance of free debate, urging universities not to suppress discussion but rather to encourage engagement with diverse perspectives.
Sunak emphasised that a small group of vociferous detractors should not be allowed to hinder discourse, advocating for Prof. Stock’s Oxford Union invitation to remain valid. He added that a key aspect of a tolerant society is the understanding of conflicting views, especially within the university environment.
This incident at Oxford University is reflective of the broader discussion regarding freedom of speech in society. As part of this discussion, Sunak plans to appoint Prof. Arif Ahmed of Cambridge University as the director of freedom of speech and academic freedom to address the increasing tendency to ‘no-platform’ academics. As a response to planned protests against Prof. Stock’s presence, security measures are being put in place for her appearance at the Oxford Union.
In defence of Prof. Stock’s appearance, over 40 academics, including notable figures like Prof. Richard Dawkins and Prof. Nigel Biggar, expressed their support through a letter to The Telegraph. The Oxford Union, independent of the university and student union, said attendees of the event will have an “opportunity to respectfully engage and challenge” Prof. Stock’s views.
In light of the debate, Oxford University stepped in to uphold free speech. The student union initially planned to ban the Oxford Union from its freshers’ fair, accusing the society of fostering a “toxic culture of bullying and harassment”. However, following a reminder of the university’s free speech policy, the student union rescinded its decision. Prof. Stock, on her part, maintains the importance of open conversation on issues related to gender identities despite the emotional impact of the discussion.