University investigates 'attack' on professor exercising her academic freedoms

Students walk towards the library at the university.

The University of Sussex has said it will not tolerate threats to 'academic freedoms' after a professor faced calls to be sacked by an anonymous group.

The group, reportedly set up by students, has launched a campaign to remove Kathleen Stock, who is a professor of philosophy at the university, over her views on gender identification.

The vice-chancellor of the University of Sussex has said the institution is investigating campus activity which appears to have been designed to "attack" Prof Stock personally for "exercising her academic freedoms".

Prof Adam Tickell said everyone at the university has the right "to be free from harassment and intimidation" and the institution will take "any action necessary to protect the rights" of their community.

His comments come after posters calling for Prof Stock to be fired were reportedly put up near to the university's campus, and an image emerged on social media of a campaigner holding a banner saying "Stock Out".

Academics on Twitter called on the university to do more to protect Prof Stock under the hashtag #ShameOnSussexUni.

A general view of the campus at the University of Sussex.

Adam Tickell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sussex, said: “We are investigating activity on our campus which appears to have been designed to attack Professor Kathleen Stock for exercising her academic freedoms. Disturbingly, this has included pressuring the University to terminate her employment.

“Everyone at the University has the right to be free from harassment and intimidation. We cannot and will not tolerate threats to cherished academic freedoms and will take any action necessary to protect the rights of our community.”

In March this year, Prof Stock said a "strong pressure" to fill course places had made university leaders worried that defending academic freedom will be misunderstood.

She warned that universities' desire to attract students and "generate income" can result in increased "ostracism of nonconformist academics".

Prof Stock has previously said she is "at odds" with a large section of academics as she believes gender identity is not more important than facts about biological sex "particularly when it comes to law and policy".

The university has said it is committed to being a safe and inclusive university.

A University of Sussex spokesperson said: “We were extremely concerned to see the harassment towards our staff member and took immediate action in response to this, which is continuing.

“We are deeply committed to being a safe and inclusive university, which values and advances equality and diversity, seeks to resolve conflicts, advances good relations and upholds lawful free speech.

“As a university community, we must be able to have complex discussions without bullying or harassment. We will always take swift action when this occurs.

“Our role as a university is to facilitate such conversations to advance shared understanding and common agreement. We insist that these are carried out respectfully and are always protective of our staff and students.”