Merton college has made a substantial U-Turn on its policy surrounding an upcoming discussion of “Perspectives on trans intersectionality”.
On Wednesday, the College withdrew a publicly available Code of Conduct for their “Equality Conversation 2020 Seminar”, which asked all attendees to “[be] respectful of all gender identities; avoid deliberately misgendering the speakers or other attendees (although it’s okay to make a mistake, apologise and move on); refrain from using language or putting forward views intended to undermine the validity of trans and gender diverse identities”, specifying that “By booking a ticket for the Equality Conversation you are agreeing to act in accordance with this code of conduct. ”
It was replaced with a statement outlining the college’s stance on academic freedoms and discrimination: “The University and College prioritise the protection both of academic freedom and of their members from unlawful discrimination.
“We seek to foster a culture of robust expression of opinion and debate that does not tolerate any form of harassment or victimisation.
“We and the University are committed to fostering an inclusive, diverse environment and to ensuring that all our staff and students, including LGBTQ members of the community, are able to thrive and realise their potential.”
The statement went on to say that the College wants to foster an “inclusive culture and a workplace” as well as a learning environment that “prizes academic freedom while being free from discrimination, harassment or victimisation”.
According to Merton College, the seminar “exists to enhance understanding of equality and diversity through constructive discussion”. Speakers at the seminar include Freddy McConnel, a transgender man, famous for his attempt to make his child the first with no legal father. Also speaking are Clara Barker (chair of the LGBT+ advisory group to Oxford University), and Sabah Choudrey (co-founder of Trans Pride Brighton).
Various academics had commented on the original Code of Conduct, with Oxford Professor Selina Todd describing it as a “dangerous precedent” that had left her “stunned”. She went on to say “I’m delighted that Merton College has upheld freedom of speech and the right to debate in accordance with College and University policy.”
Similarly, Professor Kathleen Stocker, a philosopher from Sussex University and self-described “gender critical” academic, responded to Merton’s decision, telling press “I’m really glad Oxford has responded so quickly to make sure the value of academic freedom is upheld, and legal duty complied with.
“If I give a talk criticising the idea of an inner feeling of gender identity, I expect the audience to be able to disagree – the same should apply to academic events supportive of the idea of gender identity.”
On the 21st January, Stock tweeted the following about the Code of Conduct “another day, another draconian attempt to suppress gendercritical thought at a British Uni – this time @UniofOxford no less. This is “Perspectives on Trans Intersectionality” at University of Oxford. Note in particular last two lines, as conditions of attendance / participation.”
Previous to this incident, the Sussex professor was part of a dispute with Oxford University Press, as she claimed in a separate tweet in December:
“Just been told that Oxford University Press (USA) dropped entire book of interviews with women in philosophy, after Holly Lawford-Smith & I were proposed as included in it. Our inclusion was judged “problematic”. This after Kate Manne withdrew for same reason. More when I know it”.
The book, Philosophy at 3:AM, was to be the latest in a series written by Richard Marshall, a freelance education consultant.
In response to dropping the book Oxford University Press stated, “Our editors consider a wide range of factors when reviewing the many hundreds of proposals we receive each year, to help us to decide whether or not we publish something. In this specific case, the submission was a collection of interviews—a format that we have found increasingly challenging to publish successfully in recent years. We also felt this contribution didn’t align to the other contributions for this publication, and so suggested other publishers where it could be a better fit.”
In contrast to Stock’s tweet, however, OUP does say “Scholarly integrity lies at the heart of OUP’s mission. We do not shy away from publishing works that could generate controversy or result in negative publicity.”
Further to this the company emphasises that “It’s worth noting that the book had not been accepted and was still at the proposal stage so was not dropped or abandoned while under contract in the publication process.”