Gender-critical academics are considered “transphobic” at nine universities in the UK, it has been claimed.
A report by the Committee for Academic Freedom (CAF), a group of academics worried about the erosion of free speech on campus, found that under definitions of transphobia in nine university policies, academics who believe that transgender women are not women are considered transphobic.
The universities named in the report include Imperial College London, the University of Aberdeen, the University of Huddersfield, Brunel University, Sheffield Hallam University, Leeds Beckett University, London Business School, Robert Gordon University and the University of Plymouth.
Sheffield Hallam University, for instance, uses a definition of transphobia that includes “denying their gender identity or refusing to accept it”.
The CAF report warned: “By defining gender-critical beliefs as transphobia, a university takes the view that gender-critical beliefs are wrong.
“The existence of such an official point of view must restrict freedom of thought among academics.”
It added that the policies make it “next to impossible for academics and students in those universities to freely explore and debate gender-critical ideas”.
The report found that all of the policies were the same or very similar to the definition of transphobia promoted by Stonewall, the LGBTQ+ charity.
Prof Kathleen Stock, a gender-critical academic, resigned from Sussex University in 2021 after a campaign of intimidation by trans activists.
She said: “I recognise this policy wording from when I worked in the sector and did a review of as many trans policies as I could find.
“It is alarming to find that some universities are still in the grip of external trans activist organisations who have no understanding of the value of academic freedom and apparently wish to intimidate critics into silence.”
Dr Edward Skidelsky, a philosophy lecturer at the University of Exeter, who is director of the CAF, said: “Stonewall is pushing its own interpretation of the law on universities through its Diversity Champions scheme. Universities should have nothing to do with it.”
A spokesman for Universities UK said: “Academic freedom and freedom of speech sit at the heart of the UK’s higher education sector. Universities take very seriously their responsibility to protect and promote this through their policies and processes, and by raising awareness among staff and students.”
They added: “At the same time, universities invest and work hard to create a climate in which all students and staff can discuss a range of topics – including the complex and controversial – in the knowledge that they will be listened to and treated with mutual dignity, tolerance, and civility.
“Everyone, including those from marginalised groups, should be able to speak up without fear of harassment or discrimination – which should never be tolerated or excused.
“Universities’ freedom of speech and work on EDI [equality, diversity and inclusion] should never be in tension – both are necessary to ensure that all students and staff members feel able to exist and express themselves freely on campus.”
In a statement, Stonewall said: “Freedom of speech policies are a matter for individual universities to decide – but it should be possible to discuss trans inclusion topics in a way that is respectful.”