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Over 40 academics sign letter condemning SU for Union boycott

Over 40 senior academics at the University of Oxford have signed a letter condemning the SU’s decision to boycott the Oxford Union amidst the controversy over the Oxford Union’s invitation of Dr. Kathleen Stock.

It marks a significant intervention, with academics including evolutionary biologist Professor Richard Dawkins and head of the Institute for Ethics in AI Professor John Tasioulas. The letter condemns the SU’s boycott of the Union, a move that national media has attributed to the Union’s “refusal to rescind an invitation to the philosopher and gender-critical feminist Kathleen Stock”.

However, the SU has since commented that the national media, including The Telegraph, which broke news of the academics’ letter, has “erroneously conflate[d]” the boycott as being linked to Stock’s invitation, when the motion instead cited “long-standing concerns” related to “bullying, sexual harassment, discrimination and data privacy breaches”.

Stock, a gender-critical speaker, has denounced the government’s plan to ban conversion therapy, saying trans children may need a “chance to think again”.

She resigned her post at the University of Sussex, a decision that she attributed to attacks from colleagues and student movements such as Anti Terf Sussex, a group made up of queer, trans and non-binary students. The group called for her to be sacked on the grounds that the viewpoints she espouses ‘exclude and endanger’ trans people. 

The academics stated that the SU’s boycott is “threatening [the Union’s] financial model by seeking to prevent the Union from having a stall at future freshers’ fairs”, and argued that the SU was engaging in “coercion and financial threats” which threaten the University’s status as a hub of “free inquiry”. The Union made close to £600,000 last year from new memberships, and removing access to the freshers’ fair could put that funding and the Union at existential risk.

They also stated that Stock’s views that “biological sex in humans is real” is a view which, until recently, “would have been so commonplace as to hardly merit asserting”.

The SU is not alone in condemning the Union; JCRs including St Anne’s, Christ Church, St Hilda’s, St Edmund’s Hall, Worcester and more have all passed motions calling for the invitation “to be rescinded in support of the trans community”.

In a comment to the Oxford Blue, Jade Calder, SU VP Access and Academic Affairs and proposer of the motion, stated that the decision to boycott the SU was also “prompted by recent allegations of the Union signing an exploratory agreement with the Future Investment Initiative [Institute], a think tank funded by the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund” which The Oxford Student broke news of earlier this month.

Amiad Haran Diman, President of the OULGBTQ+ Society, called the letter “inaccurate and significantly misleading”, as the motion “has nothing to do with Kathleen Stock and is all about the culture of bullying and exploitation that the Union, a private members club not affiliated with the University, is built on and that makes it an unsafe place for students”.

He commented further that the views Stock holds are “widely known, feature prominently in the media, and are widespread in Parliament. Pretending as if Stock and her views are being completely silenced by the OULGBTQ+ Society, a welfare-oriented student society that just raised objection to the hateful position she takes, is ludicrous. Free speech is not equal to a duty to platform any bigoted and misinformed speaker, and does not override the need to reject intolerance. “

Diman also stated: “I am disappointed by this letter, since these signatories’ intervention in support of these views constitutes a failure to care for the embattled trans students in Oxford, and activists who suffered abuse by the movement of hate Stock is a part of. None of these academics reached out to express their opinion, to gather more information, or to hear our concern, instead opting to rely on misleading reports and immediately go to the press – failing to foster the open discussion that they advocate for.”

The Oxford Union said in a comment to The Oxford Student, “The Oxford Union Society appreciates the support it has received from the academic community. We hope to continue acting as a forum for the open exchange of ideas, dialogue, and free speech in the years to come.”