Last week the King’s College London LGBTQ staff network, called Proudly King’s, demonstrated its intellectual level and its view of women by tweeting a picture of a woman holding a banner saying ‘TERF FART (Feminist Appropriating Radical Transphobes)’. If you thought that endorsing this kind of behaviour would make you less likely to be promoted to professor, you might be surprised to see the King’s academic promotion criteria.
To apply for promotion to Reader or Professor, academics at King’s must write five pages on research, teaching and administration and one further page devoted to ‘Inclusion and Support’. Academics are told to use this section to describe how we ‘create an inclusive environment’ and ask us to discuss ‘activity undertaken to support the university’s equality, diversity and inclusion ambitions’. The guidance gives examples, including participating in Proudly King’s and with other groups such as ‘Athena Swan, Race Equality and Stonewall LGBTQ groups’.
Exactly why King’s wants its academics to participate in Stonewall activities is unclear. Stonewall has compared women campaigning for sex-based rights to antisemites; lesbians campaigning for sex-based rights to racists; and described calls for ‘respectful debate’ as questioning ‘trans people’s right to exist’. Stonewall has even campaigned against the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) because of its attempts to uphold women’s sex-based rights.
It is wholly inappropriate for a university to single out one particular political perspective for special treatment in their promotion process. It sends a clear message that speaking against this political perspective is frowned upon, with an inevitable chilling effect on freedom of speech.
It also raises obvious legal concerns. The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act places a duty on universities to secure the academic freedom of their staff to express their views without ‘the likelihood of them securing promotion… being reduced’. The Equality Act also outlaws indirect discrimination against staff who hold protected gender-critical beliefs.