Dear Mike Buchanan,
Welcome to the FSU’s weekly newsletter, our round-up of the free speech news of the week. As with all our work, this newsletter depends on the support of our members and donors, so if you’re not already a paying member please sign up today or encourage a friend to join and help turn the tide against cancel culture. You can share our newsletters on social media with the buttons at the bottom of this email (although not if you’re reading this on a desktop). If someone has shared this newsletter with you and you’d like to join the FSU, you can find our website here.
FSU Christmas Comedy Festival – get your tickets here
If you’ve never been to one of our comedy nights before, come along and find out just how good they are. Our spectacular, annual Comedy Benefit will take place just before Christmas, on Wednesday 20th December. Our MC for the evening is FSU favourite Dominic Frisby and he will be joined on stage by a fantastic line-up: Francis Foster, Daniel O’Reilly, Tania Edwards and Alistair Williams. Come and let your hair down with the FSU staff as we celebrate another successful year defending free speech. So, round up your friends and family and get your tickets here.
Twice cancelled Edinburgh University screening of gender-critical film finally takes place
Trans activist staff and students at the University of Edinburgh failed to stop a campus screening of the first feature-length documentary about the clash between trans ideology and women’s rights (BBC, Herald, Times).
Directed by academics and film-makers Deirdre O’Neill and Michael Wayne, Adult Human Female explores the claim that women’s hard-won, sex-based rights have been damaged by one of the central tenets of gender ideology, namely, that we each have a ‘gendered soul’ (i.e., who we feel ourselves to be) and that in policy as in law, this ‘feeling’ matters more than the immutable reality of biological sex.
Earlier this year, a large group of trans activist students and their academic ‘allies’ at the University were twice able to prevent the screening of Adult Human Female, on the basis that its interviews with female prisoners, lesbians and feminist academics about the impact that gender recognition self-ID has had on their lives were “hateful” and “blatantly transphobic”.
The first attempt to show the film last December was halted amid safety concerns after protestors formed a blockade around the venue. Police were called but no arrests were made. A second attempt to show it was again cancelled in similar circumstances in April. (Scottish Daily Express).
At the time, a spokesperson for the University said: “We are in discussion with the organisers of the screening of the film, and others in our community, with the aim of identifying a suitable approach for screening the film safely.”
Whoever the “others in our community” actually were, the prestigious Russell Group university does at least belatedly seem to have realised that if it’s going to uphold its legal responsibility to defend academic freedom, then it can’t keep gifting this small troupe of censorious individuals a heckler’s veto over what is, in strictly administrative terms, a perfectly lawful event organised on campus by academic members of staff.
And so it came to pass that at the third time of asking, and with enhanced security measures in place, the event was finally able to go ahead.
In the build-up to the screening, student posters – titled “Transphobia Stinks!” – appeared on campus carrying the boast: “Student protesters have prevented this screening from taking place twice before, and we can do it again!”.
Alas, in the end fewer than 100 trans activists braved the cold weather, and those that did limited themselves to exercising their right to protest while “sharing speeches of trans love” (The Tab).
Speaking outside the screening, and flanked by almost 0.2% of the University’s total student population, Skye Marriner, president of the Edinburgh College Students’ Association (ECSA) said the film was not supported by the student body in Edinburgh. (In fact, a good many students did attend the screening).
“It actively harms trans people, and it supports transphobic language, and that’s not OK,” Ms Marriner continued. “If the trans community says they are not comfortable with this then that is something we need to respect.”
In an unwitting echo of comic character Father Ted’s “down with this sort of thing” slogan, uttered to ridiculous effect during an episode of the Irish sitcom in which the fictitious priest protests outside a remote island screening of salacious movie The Passion of St Tibulus, Ms Marriner added that the protesters were there to show people that “this kind of thing” was not welcome on campus. Careful now.
Professor Jonathan Hearn, who is a founding member of the University of Edinburgh branch of Academics for Academic Freedom, which organised the event, said he was relieved the screening was finally going ahead and he was perfectly happy for people to demonstrate.
“It’s become a matter of principle for the university to show that it can stand by its academic freedom and freedom of speech policies,” he said. “It’s just important symbolically to show that people can show films that are controversial, though I am not sure how controversial it is, and people can protest too.”
Latest episode of the FSU’s weekly podcast out now
The latest episode of our weekly podcast is out now. This week’s talking points include: the woke battle of the sexes, the decline of political impartiality in the civil service, self-censorship in teaching, and what Dr Peter Hughes describes in a recent article for Unherd as “the tyranny of pathological kindness”.
The link to download the episode in full is here.
Civil servants deleted clause barring teachers from pushing political views
Civil servants temporarily removed a ban on “political indoctrination” from the government’s model academy funding agreement back in 2020, creating a risk that academy schools may not know their legal obligation regarding impartiality. It was only when the deletion was spotted by political advisers to Nadhim Zahawi, the then education secretary in 2021, that the clause was reinstated (Telegraph).
Interestingly, the FSU analysed 14 academy school funding agreement that same year, and found that seven didn’t contain anti-indoctrination clauses.
Funding agreements are the terms on which the Department for Education (DfE) agrees to fund an academy school. As such, they are vitally important because they form an academy’s governing document. They also complement the law made by Parliament, which means there is overlap regarding impartiality – for instance, the Education (Independent School Standards) Regulations 2014 oblige academies to uphold impartiality, and funding agreements should contain the same obligation.
However, this overlap doesn’t mean that the impartiality provisions contained in funding agreements are therefore redundant, or that it doesn’t matter if they are absent. Often, academy proprietors aren’t aware that for legal purposes they are in fact “independent schools”, and therefore bound by the 2014 regulations.
In such instances, they may well think that they need look no further than the funding agreement – but of course, if the funding agreement in question doesn’t contain an impartiality provision, then the risk arises that they may treat teachers who push their political views in the classroom with a good deal more leniency than otherwise.
An entirely hypothetical risk, you might think – after all, the type of person who rises in public life by their own merits, abilities and industry to become a high-status, well-remunerated academy proprietor is unlikely to pass muster as the type of slow-witted, legal bungler this scenario would appear to require.
And yet this is neither a simple nor a clear area of law – the FSU’s Chief Legal Counsel, Dr Bryn Harris, has, for instance, seen a formal opinion from a KC specialising in education law which mistakenly stated that academy schools are not bound by the impartiality provisions of the 2014 regulations.
If KCs struggle to land a formal opinion in this difficult terrain, what price a hard-pressed academy proprietor giving the thing up as a bad job having failed to find the relevant clause in their funding agreement?
Speaking to the Telegraph, Dr Harris said: “Academy funding agreements are where schools go to understand what their obligations are.
“There’s a real risk that absent a clear agreement, academy schools may actually not know their legal obligation regarding impartiality,” he added. “It’s not just that it leaves the academy not knowing what their duties are, it may also complicate enforcing those duties with the relevant regulator.”
News of the temporary deletion comes as schools have been accused of breaching impartiality rules by teaching critical race theory and radical gender ideology.
A report by Don’t Divide Us (DDU), a campaign group challenging the idea that Britain is systemically racist, claimed earlier this year that pupils in England are being taught contested political beliefs related to controversial racial ideology as fact. Of 49 third-party organisations providing teacher training or resources for schools that DDU surveyed, 48 were promoting contested political beliefs around race theory as fact, the research found.
FSU member Emma campaigning for single-sex spaces in gyms – show your support
FSU member Emma is taking legal action against David Lloyd Leisure (DL) in order to hold the health club to account for misleading customers over its single-sex toilets and changing rooms policy.
Emma is a longstanding member of DL in York. As a mother to two young daughters, what first attracted her to the club was its repeated description of itself in marketing materials as “family friendly”.
In recent years, however, Emma has grown increasingly concerned at media reports of boys who identify as girls accessing girls’ toilets and changing rooms in schools (e.g., Mail, Telegraph).
Curious as to whether this was becoming a problem in other contexts, Emma decided to put DL’s marketing boast to the test and posed a simple question to the “family friendly” club’s operations manager: “Does our family membership also include the prospect of our daughters being naked in front of, and alongside, naked, adult men whilst using the ‘female’ signposted changing room?”, she asked.
What followed was weeks of delay, as the club’s local representatives attempted to smother Emma’s awkward yet intellectually piercing question beneath layers of bureaucratic proceduralism and vacuous woke platitudes.
Decisions were made on a case-by-case basis, one staff member temporized. It was important for the club to treat everyone with respect, said another, remembering a good one.
Emma continued to put her question, however, until eventually it transpired that the club’s operational manager needed to get an answer from head office.
Aptly enough given the topic, that answer, when it arrived, wasn’t binary: “Whilst you ask for a straightforward answer of yes or no the answer relates to a topic that is anything but straightforward,” the regional manager philosophised.
A month later, Emma finally secured a meeting with representatives from the club, where she was told that DL has adopted something called “UK Active Guidance”, a document that apparently allows members to access changing rooms according to their “gendered appearance”.
What did “gendered appearance” mean, or even look like? The club’s representatives didn’t know. Had this guidance been adopted recently? DL had always followed this guidance, they said, and went on to claim that this was made clear to customers.
And what about the prospect of Emma’s 11- and 13-year-old daughters having to undress in a female changing room while looking at a male stranger’s penis – was that something DL regarded as “family friendly”? Should Emma or her daughters ever feel intimidated, threatened or unsafe, then she should report that immediately to management, they suggested.
As Emma says over on her legal crowdfunder: “In accordance with our gender-critical beliefs, we do not accept that a man can become a woman in order to access the female single-sex spaces our daughters are using. Had DL made their changing room policy clear to us up-front, we would never have joined.”
Emma hopes that by taking legal action against DL she will give pause for thought to the many other companies and institutions currently sacrificing women’s and girls’ rights to privacy and dignity at the altar of unthinking, philosophically incoherent ‘inclusivity’.
To find out more about the case and show your support, click here.
FSU member Mike Fairclough’s legal crowdfunder – show your support
Former headteacher and FSU member Mike Fairclough is taking his ex-employer to the Employment Tribunal after he claims he was discriminated against, harassed and bullied simply for exercising his right to lawful free speech and speaking out against the impact of Covid restrictions on young people.
Mr Fairclough says the local authority commissioned three separate investigations into his conduct after he publicly questioned lockdown policies and the Covid vaccine rollout to children.
Despite being cleared of wrongdoing on each occasion, the council has since refused to confirm that he will not be subject to further investigations if the same complaint is raised in the future. The process becoming the punishment prompted Mr Fairclough to tender his resignation on the basis that he considered himself to be constructively dismissed. This was, he said, “a deliberate attempt to silence ‘disapproved of views’ using the complaints procedure”.
With the help of the FSU and civil liberties barrister Paul Diamond, Mr Fairclough is bringing his claim in the Employment Tribunal. Now he needs your help. If you can, please support this case, which raises substantive issues on freedom of speech the State suppression of opposing views. The link to the crowdfunder is here.
Mr Fairclough joined the hosts of the Telegraph’s Planet Normal podcast, Allison Pearson and Liam Halligan, to discuss his case recently – the link to the episode is available here.
Mike also recently sat down with the leader of the Reclaim Party, Laurence Fox, to discuss pandemic policy, and how the state was able to silence dissenting voices and create the conditions for people expressing their lawful opinions to be publicly vilified – the link to the interview is here.
King’s College London tells promotion-seeking academics: Back Stonewall
It has for some time now been de rigeur for administrators at US universities to demand ‘diversity statements’ for academic job applicants, as a form of political litmus test to ensure that Conservatives ‘undesirable’ candidates can be rejected even before their research and teaching are evaluated.
Although things haven’t quite degenerated to that extent in the UK, nonetheless, King’s College London is now telling academics that showing support for the LGBT charity Stonewall could help them achieve a promotion (Telegraph).
The prestigious Russell Group university has distributed guidance to its current academic staff on education and research contracts about how they can rise to become readers or professors.
As part of any promotion application, staff must now submit an application form that runs to eight pages, one of which is titled “inclusion and support” and lists working with groups such as Stonewall as an example of good practice. Other sections cover teaching, research impact and academic leadership.
“You should evidence how you create an inclusive environment where colleagues are valued and able to succeed,” states the accompanying guidance on how to fill out the form from KCL’s Human Resources team.
It goes on to explain that “part five of the promotion application form [i.e., the “inclusion and support” section] should be used to fulfill this criteria, demonstrating specific activity undertaken to support the university’s equality, diversity and inclusion ambitions”.
In a list of appropriate examples, the guidance mentions “participating in equality, diversity and inclusion activity such as Athena SWAN, [Advance HE’s] Race Equality [Charter] and Stonewall LGBTQ groups”.
KCL’s guidance has been criticised by one lecturer at the university, who claimed managers were effectively asking him to “campaign on Stonewall’s behalf”. Dr John Armstrong, a reader in financial mathematics and FSU Advisory Council Member, said: “We are being told that if we campaign on Stonewall’s behalf it will help with promotion.
“There are no college-approved groups that support the needs of female staff or that support academic freedom. This clear bias is discriminatory and undermines the impartiality and credibility of KCL research.”
As to the question of what the purpose of all this ostensibly pointless virtue signalling really is, Prof Alan Sokal gave a fascinating, class-based answer during our recent, ‘Is there a Left way back from woke?’ event (which you can watch in full here).
Woke ideology, he said, is a way for members of the upper strata of the professional managerial class – i.e., people with managerial authority, and especially those who work in corporate Human Resources departments – to control and regulate the speech and behaviour of other, subordinate members of their class.
And how do they achieve that? By adopting initiatives exactly like KCL’s new promotion application scheme, in which adherence to woke ideology becomes a trump card that sharp-elbowed members of the professional managerial class can play if they want to get ahead in the ultra-competitive, intra-class battle for jobs, power and influence.