Oxford dons: ‘SU attack on free speech entering dangerous territory’

The “effective prohibition” of free speech by Oxford University Student Union (OUSU) cannot continue, say dozens of the leading university’s academic staff.

In a letter to The Daily Telegraph, more than 40 academics “wholeheartedly condemned” the decision by the OUSU to censure the Oxford Union, a debating society, a move the academics linked to its refusal to cancel an invitation to the prominent gender critic Professor Kathleen Stock OBE.

Numbered among the signatories are scientists, legal experts, sociologists, philosophers and psychologists – including biologist Richard Dawkins and professor of evidence-based medicine Carl Heneghan.


Last month, the LGBTQ+ society at Oxford urged the historic debating society to ‘no-platform’ Professor Stock, branding her “transphobic” for her belief in the reality of biological sex.

Following The Oxford Union’s refusal to yield to activists’ demands, the OUSU severed its ties with the society and banned it from the freshers’ fair.

OUSU claims its actions were “unrelated to Dr Stock’s talk” and it supported “the right of people to have controversial and unpopular ideas debated as an integral part of university life and the student experience”.

Open discussion

The academics stated: “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.”

Commending the Oxford Union for not capitulating to “moralistic browbeating”, the signatories scorned the idea that Prof Stock’s views “are so illicit that they cannot be safely discussed in front of an audience of consenting and intelligent adults”.

“Universities must remain places where contentious views can be openly discussed”, they argued, rather than where “the institutions of a university collude to suppress the expression of controversial, but potentially true, viewpoints”.


Responding to the letter, Professor Stock said she was “very pleased to see there are still those at Oxford University who understand the value of upholding academic freedom, and are prepared to demonstrate this important value in public”.

She added: “I hope their example will inspire others to do similar”.

Claire Coutinho, Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing, stated that students “shouldn’t be punished for encouraging the free exchange of ideas”.

She said the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023 “will make sure that universities promote free speech” and that those who have their “free speech rights unlawfully restricted on campus can seek redress”.

Also see:

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