We are very sorry to announce that our screening and discussion of Adult Human Female is postponed until after the summer.
Shortly after our second attempt to hold this event was sabotaged, and we and our attendees were subjected to sexist and ageist insults by protestors, the Principal issued this statement. We welcomed its robust tone and apparent commitment to action, whilst noting at the time that, “words alone are not enough, and we hope prompt and decisive action will now be taken”.
Three weeks after the second sabotage, we met with the Principal and other members of management. They assured us that they were committed to enabling our event to go ahead successfully. We put it to them that for a third attempt to succeed, managers would need to act decisively to prevent the escalation of hostilities such as those we saw from members of the University of Edinburgh (using the University’s infrastructure) in the run-up to both the December and April events, as well as plan for more effective crisis management on the day, including (crucially) police involvement. The preventative action to which they were willing to commit did not seem adequate to us, and seemed a repeat of actions that have been unsuccessful in the past, but we had no option other than to accept what they proposed to do. We noted that the promised actions would need to be progressed by the end of May for there to be time to reschedule the event during June, before the summer holidays.
At the end of last week the University Provost confirmed that managers have not been able to make the preparations they consider appropriate in the five weeks since the April sabotage. As a consequence, we are forced to postpone our screening and discussion of Adult Human Female until the start of next academic year. We apologise, once again, to our attendees and panel for the disappointment this will cause.
The conflict over sex and gender, playing out in various arenas of academia, law, policy and practice, is a major and socially significant issue, as well as a deeply contentious one. It is, or should be, part of the role of a university to provide opportunities for robust, respectful, good faith discussion according to the normal rules of academic engagement on contested issues. We are aware of several public engagement events platforming gender-identity theory uncritically which have gone ahead on our campus during the past academic year. No events allowing critical discussion of that theory and advocating for women’s rights on the basis of sex have, to our knowledge, been allowed to happen. We believe this is shameful.
The sabotage, not once but twice, of our screening and discussion, was an effective exercise of what is sometimes known as the ‘heckler’s veto’: the use of intimidatory tactics which in this case have included denouncing and monstering, unfounded allegations made in inflammatory language, and physically preventing people from accessing the venue. We put it to managers that the University of Edinburgh should not allow the use of the heckler’s veto to stand over the summer. As far as we know, the University of Edinburgh is the only UK university at which the actions of protestors have successfully prevented a public engagement event platforming critical discussion of gender-identity theory. Adult Human Female was successfully shown and discussed at University College London in February of this year so it is clearly possible, with appropriate preparation and support. Last week, Professor Kathleen Stock spoke at the Oxford Union, despite intense and heavily-publicised protests. It seems to be only the University of Edinburgh which is unable to prevent such events from being sabotaged.
In the immediate aftermath of the second sabotage of our screening and discussion, we said that “senior leaders in the University have failed to uphold their legal and moral responsibility to promote and defend academic freedom”. The prompt and decisive action we hoped for has not materialised. We hope that they will now use the breathing space they have over the summer to reflect on what has happened, and take whatever steps need to be taken to allow our event to go ahead early in the new academic year.