The risk of reputational damage

In the Telegraph:

Academics say they have been forced to leave the country to pursue their research interests as British universities are accused of blocking studies over fears of backlash on social media.

The Twitter armies are marching, marching.

The academics have decided to speak out as James Caspian, one of the country’s leading gender specialists, revealed that he is planning to take Bath Spa University to judicial review over its decision to turn down his research into transgenderism.

Well but you see there’s no need to research transgenderism, because we already know all there is to know: that gender is how people “identify” and that sex is wholly beside the point.

Dr Heather Brunskell-Evans, a fellow of King’s College London who has previously sat on research awarding bodies, claimed that some universities were becoming “authoritarian”.

Universities project themselves as places of open debate, while at the same time they are very worried about being seen to fall foul of the consensus, she added.

“They are increasingly managerial and bureaucratic. They are now prioritising the risk of reputational damage over their duty to uphold freedom of inquiry.”

Dr Brunskell-Evans said she has encountered resistance when researching the dangers associated with prostitution, adding that many universities had “shut down” any critical analysis of the subject which might offend advocates in favour of legalisation.

Good lord. So universities are afraid of being called SWERFs as well as TERFs. That seems pretty pathetic.

Whilst working at the University of Leicester, she claimed that a critical analysis she published of Vanity Fair magazine’s visual representation of the transgendering of Bruce to Caitlyn Jenner had been pulled after complaints were made.

It was later republished after the university’s lawyers were consulted. The University of Leicester was unavailable for comment.

I suppose she pointed out that Jenner was glamorized on the cover of Vanity Fair in a way that no woman of the same age would be in a million years? And that making it all about being on a magazine cover in a bathing suit is a slightly trivializing view of what it means to be a woman?

Bath Spa University caused controversy earlier this year, when it emerged that it had declined Mr Caspian’s research proposal to examine why growing numbers of transgender people were reversing their transition surgery.

After accepting his proposal in 2015, the university later U-turned when Mr Caspian asked to look for participants on online forums, informing him that his research could provoke “unnecessary offence” and “attacks on social media”.

But why? Why would such research cause offence and attacks?

Presumably because it has become Absolute Dogma that trans people just are the other sex and thus Absolute Blasphemy to do research that implies it might not be that simple. But that’s a ludicrous claim to make Absolute Dogma.

What would be a less ludicrous claim to make Absolute Dogma? That no one should be abused or disadvantaged for what they are. That’s a morality-claim and a rights-claim as well as (or rather than) a truth-claim. It’s a rule for participation, you could say, and it needs to be an order as opposed to a suggestion, but rules of that kind should be few and simple. Research into detransitioning should have nothing to do with that sort of rule.

In a letter sent this week to the universities minister Jo Johnson, Mr Caspian writes that the “suppression of research on spurious grounds” is a growing problem in Britain.

“I have already heard of academics leaving the UK for countries where they felt they would be more welcomed to carry out their research,” the letter continues.

“I believe that it should be made clear that any infringement of our academic freedom should not be allowed. I would ask you to consider the ramifications should academics continue to be censored in this way.”

Last night, Mr Johnson said that academic freedom was the “foundation of higher education”, adding that he expected universities to “protect and promote it”.

Under the new Higher Education and Research Act, he said that universities would be expected to champion “the freedom to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions”.

It’s a pity if it’s only the Tories who say that.

6 Responses to “The risk of reputational damage”