by Rob Lownie
Friday, 16
December 2022
Campus Wars
07:30

University of Edinburgh cancels gender identity film screening

The shutdown of the event is another case of students stifling campus debate
by Rob Lownie
Ann Henderson, the former rector of the University of Edinburgh who was targeted by a student campaign.

A cancelled film screening on Wednesday night at the University of Edinburgh is another sign that the institution has become increasingly hostile to open discussion on campus. The Edinburgh branch of Academics for Academic Freedom (AFAF) had organised a showing of Adult Human Female, a documentary released this year which challenges gender identity politics, but saw their event picketed by student activists. Earlier this week the trade union UCU Edinburgh demanded the showing not take place in a University building, describing the event as “a clear attack on trans people’s identities”.

Around 10 protesters reportedly occupied the lecture theatre in Edinburgh’s George Square where the screening was originally planned to take place, before another group occupied the proposed alternative location on campus. Many of the agitating students wore protective Covid masks to conceal their identities as they chanted and harangued attendees. One person identified was Robyn Woof, the University Students’ Association’s Trans and Non-Binary Officer, who was filmed at the protest and who labelled the organisers “bigots”.


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The event was then called off due to safety concerns. SNP MP and Edinburgh alumna Joanna Cherry condemned the decision, referring to an “authoritarian neo-fascist climate” at the University and in Scotland more broadly.

The thwarted viewing is only the latest incident to drag the University of Edinburgh into the news over free speech issues. In October a student group disrupted a meeting for Edinburgh’s [Pro-] Life Society, with one shouting through a megaphone, “Stop this talk right now […] We are not letting you spread your harmful rhetoric against people with uteruses” as attendees listened politely

On the formation of Edinburgh AFAF earlier this year, a union official accused the group of being a “haven for racists, transphobes and other assorted bigots”. In 2021 Neil Thin, a founder member of the branch which seeks to protect academic freedom at the University, endured a two-month investigation (that eventually cleared him) into spurious, and mostly anonymous, claims that he was a “rape apologist” and “the epitome of white supremacy”. He had previously questioned a campus event titled ‘Resisting Whiteness’, which had segregated audience members by race and which banned white spectators from asking questions.

The authoritarian impulse prevailing among Edinburgh’s students and staff was even enough to leave Ann Henderson, a labour campaigner who was the Rector of the University between 2018-21, fearing for her safety. For the crime of retweeting the link to an event titled ‘How will changes to the Gender Recognition Act affect women’s rights?’ Henderson was subjected to a smear campaign which lasted practically the entirety of her tenure. She received scant support from Edinburgh’s vice-chancellor Peter Mathieson, whose record on freedom of expression is, at best, chequered.

Not only did the University’s senior management forsake their Rector, Henderson was also attacked by the campus newspaper, The Student, which uncritically labelled her ‘transphobic’ in multiple articles. In a neat bit of symmetry, the publication’s editor this week made clear that they would not be covering the Adult Human Female event, and by extension the protests against it, because “we do not believe in platforming the harmful rhetoric that will undoubtedly affect many of our student readership”.

This silencing of gender-critical views is something I witnessed when I served as editor-in-chief at The Student in 2020, too. And this latest example is as saddening as the ones that preceded it. For one of the most highly regarded institutions in the country, these developments should trouble us all.

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Peter Francis
Peter Francis
1 month ago

Many thanks to Rob Lownie for this piece. I used to lecture at University of Edinburgh and I am an Edinburgh resident. This article resonates with what I have been hearing from ex-colleagues and current students.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter Francis

Don’t those in charge, the teaching staff and the students realise that being so publicly associated with the censoring of free speech and thinking will in the long term globally damage the reputation, and therefore the value of the degrees they teach and issue? And if you do consider employing teaching staff or graduates from there, it’ll be easy to see if they were there when this censorship happened, prompting the first interview question:
How do you feel about freedom of speech?
That’ll be a tricky one to answer!

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter Francis

But this is only another step in an evolutionary process that has been going on at universities for decades.
There has always been an unwritten and evolving list of acceptable and proscribed views.
Those who work in universities and who are now speaking out do so because the list of acceptable and proscribed views has evolved to a point where they are no longer in accord with it.
However, wind back a few years and they had no problem with the people with the right wrong views being branded as unmutual

Wilma Grant
Wilma Grant
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter Francis

Rob notes that the event was ‘called off due to safety concerns’ but fails to mention that Police attended, and, apart from speaking to the thuggish little gang intent upon intimidation and disruption, did precisely nothing. If there really were safety concerns, the intimidation had succeeded. At the least a breach of the peace was taking place. Neither the Police, nor, to my knowledge, the University think that this required them to do something.

Move along there. Nothing to see here.

Peter D
Peter D
1 month ago

Maybe the time has come to fight fire with fire and start using the words
Heterophobia
Anglophobe
Celtophobe
Womenaphobe (is this even a thing???)
Manaphobe(only to be fair)

I could go on but everyone gets the gist. This is a very daunting time at the moment but if we don’t stand up, we stand to lose everything. It might seem like I might be saying that the sky is falling in but when you take the words they are saying as true and follow it forward to when it becomes a reality, is this the future you want?

Peter Francis
Peter Francis
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter D

How about “Phobabphobe”, which I define as a suspicion that whenever proponents of X brand an opponent as “Xphobic”, it means they want to avoid having to argue their case rationally.

N Forster
N Forster
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter D

The word “sophist” covers a great deal. As does “liar.”

tintin lechien
tintin lechien
1 month ago
Reply to  N Forster

Great choice but I am afraid the ignorant woke left cultist criminals won’t understand the word sophist. Bigot may be an alternative.

Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter D

Might I suggest:
‘Womanaphobe’ = Gynophobe
‘Manaphobe’ = Androphobe.
I think it sounds more ‘official’ and the words trip off the tongue more smoothly. Let’s make this a thing!

Lorne Carmichael
Lorne Carmichael
1 month ago
Reply to  Sharon Overy

Veriphobic works too.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter D

Maybe it’s time to stop using words and simply beat the crap out of these people when they try to shut down an event. They always tell us that “words are violence”. Eventually someone is going to take them at their word.
(And no, I’m not being entirely facetious here. Limited violence in defense of civilization is not necessarily a vice.)

Last edited 1 month ago by Brian Villanueva
Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 month ago

I cannot possibly agree that violence (limited or otherwise) is a way to deal with anyone who is not directly or imminently, causing physical harm to you or someone else.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
1 month ago

Linda, I agree. However, when the people whose job it is to enforce the rules (the university admin) are refusing to do so, what other options are there.

If it was just 1 university, I wouldn’t feel that way. But it’s not. It’s essentially every university, every major corporation, every media outlet, every major tech company, and much of the actual state.

A republic can’t survive without the political speech. But today a porn website has more protection than a conservative speaker on a university campus.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 month ago

Violence begets violence. I don’t want to live in a society where anyone who can’t get what he wants resorts to killing. Even if a person is being silenced by administrative means, within a democracy there are still ways to overcome this – demonstations, standing fopr office, supporting someone who holds the same views.

tintin lechien
tintin lechien
1 month ago

So you would support the Just Stop Oil protestors?

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 month ago
Reply to  tintin lechien

I support the right of anyone to peacefully protest within the law.

tintin lechien
tintin lechien
1 month ago

Didn’t you see the video of the last Pride March where a group of masked men violently pushed and shoved the few lesbians at the March, and the police stupidly warned the lesbians and told them to leave, ignoring the aggressive and threatening masked men? Provoked violence for self protection is a legal defence. If we don’t fight back with the same aggression then we become the victim, willingly.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 month ago
Reply to  tintin lechien

The masked men were wrong, but, other than getting their own, back what would it have achieved for the women to hit back after the event? Of course, they have a right to defend themselves, with proportionate force, at the time of an attack as, would any bystander..

Graeme McNeil
Graeme McNeil
1 month ago

Why don’t you give it a try – see how that goes…

tintin lechien
tintin lechien
1 month ago

I agree. Emplit private security guards at these events and if anyone tries to be aggressive, as witnessed at vérifie events lately, the guards can haul them outside. Is that so difficult?

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter D

I thought “Gynophobe” but got beaten to it.

Last edited 1 month ago by Arnold Grutt
Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 month ago

“This silencing of gender-critical views…” I think the author means “This denial of biological facts…” Those pedalling trans ideology should be referred to as “Sexual fact deniers” or “reality phobic”.

Einsteins Daddy
Einsteins Daddy
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

And “gender affirming care” should be labeled truthfully as “gender denying care”.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 month ago

I don’t think “care” is valid. “Gender denying interventions” is about as neutral as I would manage.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 month ago

I take your point, but a more accurate expression would be “sex-denying care.”

Andrew Wise
Andrew Wise
1 month ago

Do you mean mutilation as used in the context of FGM?

gail ward
gail ward
1 month ago

You know you have won the argument when your opponent resorts to name-calling.

This is a poor restatement of Margaret Thatcher, “ I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.”

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
1 month ago
Reply to  gail ward

Wrong! This statement crystalizes why the Right keeps losing. We think we’re in a debating society while the Left realizes they’re in a bar fight. It’s not a contest of ideas anymore because the Left isn’t interested in ideas. They’re interested in power and to wield it to destroy anyone who disagrees with them.
Basic combat doctrine: you know you have won when you opponent ceases to be capable of being a threat.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 month ago

Interesting thoughts you have. To bolster your comment, I don’t recall a right-leaning group burning down courthouses and police stations recently. I don’t recall any Republican senators threatening bodily harm to Supreme Court justices lately. These only come from the left.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
1 month ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

Yes. That’s my point. The Left is trying to hurt people while the Right is busy making points of order. I think you and I are saying the same thing.

Last edited 1 month ago by Brian Villanueva
tintin lechien
tintin lechien
1 month ago

Exactly – Peter Thatchell and Stonewall publicly declared – no debate! So they resort to violence against anyone who wants to discuss/debate/educate! Enough of our civil strategy.

Sam Hill
Sam Hill
1 month ago

‘The thwarted viewing is only the latest incident to drag the University of Edinburgh into the news over free speech issues.’
But I think that this is not really the point any more. This isn’t about free speech. Of course free speech has never been about equal speech, and in an internet talkboard age arguments about free speech seem somewhat twee. Anyone has speech per se with new technology.
This issue here is straight identitarianism and its debilitating of civil society – a demand that people conform to identitarian whims and indulge grievance on something not far from an assumption of guilt is not a civil society in any meaningful sense. I’m sorry if this sounds terribly old-fashioned but whatever happened to a belief in a common good as citizens rather than identity groups?
To an extent universities in themselves have no one to blame having become ever-more loan funded ‘bubbles’ into which students can become absorbed into this nonsense without any real brush with the real world or the.  30 years ago at university we regarded feminism/racism etc as about the a priori moral condemnation of individuals on the basis of characteristics they could not control and redressing identifiable material loss. Race and gender then mattered rather less than paying the rent and putting food on the table. We understood that a civil society where we could be ourselves and respect and be respected mattered greatly. We understood that purity spirals help no one.
Universities with never-ending behaviour policies practically asked their students to beckon in authority to mediate petty grievances. Hence nonsense like identitarian complaints mentioned in the article. What of course has increasingly happened is that the expectations of indulgence at Universities has spilled over into the workplace.
This stuff matters not because of free speech – it matters because it is driving apart our society. It is driving citizen from citizen, worker from worker and neighbour from neighbour. Identitarianism has captured the exact institutions on which civil society should be based – universities, unions, arts, charities, professional societies (local) political parties. The effects have been malign.
I suspect that for the universities it’s too late. For now it’s about how, if, civil society can be rebuilt.

Charles J Lewis
Charles J Lewis
1 month ago
Reply to  Sam Hill

That –the weakening and so the destruction– of our society is what the activists are aiming for, whether by destabilising the young people with their absurd gender nonsense or destroying our history (the best way to destroy people, we are told.)
Any suggestion that Stonewall et al are acting in the interests of real trans people is ludicrous. Stonewall et all are simply malign activists (aka critical theorists) aiming to overthrow our society.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
1 month ago

I saw a video of this on Twitter. Robyn looked to all intents and purposes like a dude menacing women.

N Forster
N Forster
1 month ago

Yes. He is male.

R Wright
R Wright
1 month ago

Doesn’t look like he’s even made an effort to try and ‘pass’.

tintin lechien
tintin lechien
1 month ago

I said it before and I repeat it here (as a proud gay man) – most trans activists bigots are twisted and sad gay men who probably hate their mothers so transfer that hatred against feminists. Just witness all the drag looking criminals attacking lesbians et al, in public! Time we started identifying them and name and shame them.

William Cameron
William Cameron
1 month ago

A university that denies freedom of speech isnt a place of learning its a cult.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 month ago

A very expensive one at that.

Michael James
Michael James
1 month ago

Universities that fail to protect free expression should forfeit the title ‘university’ and lose all public funding.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
1 month ago

Utter effing madness. The adults are the worst. They’ve become the morality police they probably protested as kids.

Jonas Moze
Jonas Moze
1 month ago

”In Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726) the Big-Endians are a group of people in Lilliput who believe that boiled eggs should be broken at the big end rather than at the little end, as commanded by the Emperor of Lilliput. As a result of this disagreement Lilliput and the neighbouring land of Blefuscu have ‘been engaged in a most obstinate war for six and thirty moons past’…. …”

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
1 month ago

10 STUDENTS! Given 10 men with chests, this could be dealt with in 30 seconds.

Reminds me of God’s words to Abraham: “for 10 righteous men I will spare the city of Sodom.” Unfortunately, there weren’t 10 men with chests in Sodom, and apparently there aren’t in Edinburgh either.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 month ago

But if they acted, they would have been thrown in prison and declared a “threat to democracy.” Only the left is allowed to be violent.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
1 month ago

Would love to be the first to comment, but my comment went into the ‘ether’.

Jonas Moze
Jonas Moze
1 month ago

aether?
aether alternative spellings include æther, aither, and ether), also known as the fifth element or quintessence, is the material that fills the region of the universe”

Yes, it does suck a lot of other wise good posts into its self….and few ever pop back out. So I have found. Was it a good post? Sorry I missed it, you do make some good ones…and this topic is just calling out for some pithy ones….

Leejon 0
Leejon 0
1 month ago

I do not think there is anything nefarious in this, when it has happened to me a message to Sophie usually fixes it.

Charles J Lewis
Charles J Lewis
1 month ago

What can one expect when their political leader is a mindless activist, not to say an idiot?

Gerald Arcuri
Gerald Arcuri
1 month ago

The universities are close-minded. Allan Bloom said so 50:years ago. They don’t stand for Enlightenment values, but are committed to bringing on the New Dark Ages in the name of equity, diversity and inclusion. Reason and logic be damned. We the intellectual elite will bring in a New World Order and tell you what think, say and do.
Those who begin by banning speeches will end in banishing people. Count on it.

Michael Layman
Michael Layman
1 month ago

University students are not very bright, sad to see freedom of speech (and thought) suppressed by a small vocal group.