Oxford academic defends feminist Kathleen Stock’s right to freedom of speech

Oxford University’s vice-chancellor has defended the right for feminist Kathleen Stock to speak there as a matter of “freedom of speech”.

Earlier this month, it was announced the Oxford Union is to offer “welfare resources” to students attending a talk by Ms Stock, which is expected to cover “sensitive” topics.

Irene Tracey, who took over as vice-chancellor in January, told the The Times: “Freedom of speech is what we stand for. She has a right to come and speak. It’s as simple as that.”

Prof Stock, who quit her job as a lecturer at the University of Sussex after being targeted by activists over her views on gender identity, is due to speak at the 200-year-old debating society later this month.

Her planned appearance at the Oxford Union has sparked anger among some student groups.

They have called for her invitation to be rescinded and a protest is due to be held outside the society’s building on the day of the talk.

Prof Tracey believes that part of the university’s role is to enable students to deal with differing viewpoints and that the conflict over freedom of speech is “turbocharged” by social media.

She told the newspaper: “Our job is to help equip them because they’re going to go into the workplace.

“You’ve got to get used to views that are going to be absolutely aligned with your own, and ones that you’ll find distasteful.

“Most students actually get it and are quite impassioned about the fact that people should have a range of views.”

The Oxford Union, which describes itself as the “last bastion of free speech”, said students will be able to “challenge” Prof Stock at the event on May 30.

Prof Tracey added: “We’ll put all the appropriate measures in place to make sure that people can go there safely. I’m sure it’ll be a very interesting evening.”

In 2021, Prof Stock announced she would be leaving her job as a professor of philosophy at the University of Sussex after “a very difficult few years”.

The academic had faced calls to be sacked amid accusations of transphobia.

In a statement last month, the Oxford University LGBTQ+ society called for Prof Stock’s invitation to speak to be rescinded as it claimed she was “transphobic and trans-exclusionary”.

It also accused Oxford Union of “disregarding” the welfare of the society’s members under the guise of free speech.

Prof Stock said on Twitter that the society’s statement contained “several falsehoods”, was “probably defamatory” and made it look “utterly ridiculous”.

A coalition of Oxford organisations and activists is set to hold a Trans+ Pride event in the city centre on May 30, which will include a rally and march which will culminate outside the Oxford Union where Prof Stock is due to speak.