Universities ‘should take note’ of Sussex free speech row investigation

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said the Government was prioritising the right to free speech through introducing new legislation.

Catherine Lough
Monday 31 January 2022 17:36
People taking part in a Black Trans Lives Matter march from Hyde Park, London (PA)
People taking part in a Black Trans Lives Matter march from Hyde Park, London (PA)

Universities should “take note” of the investigation into Sussex University after an academic at the centre of a row over transgender rights was forced to quit, MPs have been told.

Speaking at Commons education questions, Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said that the Government was prioritising the right to free speech through introducing new legislation on the issue, and that institutions should “take note” over an investigation by the Office for Students into Sussex University.

Conservative MP Jonathan Gullis told the Commons that his constituency of Stoke-on-Trent was “proud” to be the home of Staffordshire University.

“But sadly it seems that cancel culture has arrived on our doorsteps after the ‘wokerati’ made formal complaints about Criminology professor James Treadwell, for tweeting that transgender women should not be allowed in women’s prisons,” he said, adding that Prof Treadwell had cited research finding that half of women in prison had experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse.

He called on the minister to share her “despair at this tiny extreme minority who wish to silence everyone’s opinion they disagree with”.

Ms Donelan said: “This is a Government that is committed to ensuring free speech on our campuses which is exactly why we are honouring our manifesto commitment and bringing to the House free speech legislation.

“I would like to point out that the University of Sussex is already being investigated by the Office for Students and other universities should take note of this.”

In November 2021, the Office for Students launched an investigation into whether Sussex had met its “obligations on academic freedom and freedom of speech” after Kathleen Stock, a professor of philosophy, was targeted by activists over her views on gender identity.

Prof Stock faced death threats and accusations of transphobia and announced she would be leaving the University of Sussex in October last year after a “horrible time”.

Prof Treadwell said on social media that “over half of female prisoners have experienced sexual violence and abuse”.

“Many have been damaged by men time and again. I cannot see any case for now why we should do anything but #KeepPrisonsSingleSex,” he added.

During the questions, Conservative MP Sir John Hayes (South Holland and the Deepings) said that anti-racism education in schools is a form of “indoctrination” as the Government confirmed that guidance on the issue would be updated “shortly”.

He said: “Will the minister investigate how much local authorities are spending on so-called anti-racist education, which is based on deceit, spreads dismay and causes division?

“She will know this is happening in Brighton and elsewhere.

“Will she therefore meet ‘Don’t Divide Us’, parents and teachers who are highlighting these matters, consider issuing guidance and if necessary take steps to prevent this kind of indoctrination?”

The minister replied: “I know the minister for schools and families (Will Quince) would be only too happy to meet with him and it is important to remind the House that schools are subject to political impartiality, and guidance will be updated on this shortly.”

And MP Dr Julian Lewis called on the Government to take “appropriate action against Brighton and Hove City Council which is planning to indoctrinate seven-year-olds with critical race theory”.

Mr Walker said the Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch had been “very clear that critical race theory should never be taught as fact, it is a contentious political viewpoint, and we are absolutely working on making sure we update our guidance on political impartiality in school to make that absolutely clear”.

In 2020, Ms Badenoch said: “I want to speak about a dangerous trend in race relations that has come far too close to home in my life and it is the promotion of critical race theory, an ideology that sees my blackness as victimhood and their whiteness as oppression.

“I want to be absolutely clear: this Government stands unequivocally against critical race theory.”

A spokesperson for Staffordshire University said: “We can confirm we have received a complaint about views expressed by Professor Treadwell on Twitter.

“As we would do normally, this is in the process of being reviewed in accordance with the University’s procedures.

“As a University we are committed to equality, diversity, and inclusion to ensure we promote a positive culture where everyone is able to be themselves.

“We are equally committed to academic freedom and lawful freedom of speech.

“We cannot comment any further at this stage.”

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