King’s challenged over EDI requirement in promotion process

University discriminating against those with gender-critical beliefs, bringing it into conflict with new free speech rules, legal opinion states

四月 20, 2024
King’s College London
Source: iStock

A barrister has claimed that the promotion policy at King’s College London is discriminating against people with “gender-critical views” by requiring them to support the institution’s equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) aims.

Campaign groups are lobbying the university to review its processes after claiming they are unlawful and might open it up to challenge under the coming free speech complaints scheme, which launches in August.

A legal opinion prepared by the barrister Akua Reindorf and published by the group Sex Matters states that “the requirement to demonstrate allegiance to the EDI ambitions as a criterion for advancement places those with gender-critical beliefs at a particular disadvantage when compared to others”.

Ms Reindorf was instructed by Sex Matters to look at the policies after a King’s academic, John Armstrong, a reader in mathematics, raised concerns that the requirements of the application constituted discrimination against those who hold the view that people cannot change their sex, and placed unlawful restrictions on free speech and academic freedom.

The fifth part of the application form for promotion at the university requires applicants to set out information about their contribution to “inclusion and support”.

To meet the criteria, applicants must have completed an EDI e-learning module and “active bystander training”, which teaches people how to intervene when they witness inappropriate behaviour.

They must also detail specific activity they have undertaken to support the university’s EDI ambitions and suggests examples including “participating in equality, diversity and inclusion activity such as Athena Swan, race equality and Stonewall LGBTQ groups”, and promoting the university’s networks such as “Proudly King’s”, an LGBTQ+ group.

After analysing these documents and initiatives, Ms Reindorf has concluded that “KCL’s various policies, training materials and guidance relating to the protected characteristics of sex and gender reassignment are incorrect, as a matter of law, in several substantial respects”.

For example, she says, gender identity is a “running theme” in the e-learning module and the requirement to pass it is “likely to entail giving answers which are contrary to the beliefs of a gender-critical person”.

The suggestion that academics work with specified external organisations “appears to be wholly unwarranted”, adds Ms Reindorf, and the list is “heavily skewed towards working with organisations which adhere to the gender identity belief”.

Overall Ms Reindorf – who previously authored a review of “no platforming” of academics by the University of Essex – says it is “demonstrable that KCL has failed to maintain institutional neutrality in the highly controversial sex and gender debate” and that the application process “requires employees to demonstrate allegiance to the ideological position to which KCL has chosen to adhere”.

Sex Matters has sent the legal opinion to King’s alongside a letter to its vice-chancellor, Shitij Kapur, which is signed by the group’s chief executive, Maya Forstater, a former international development researcher whose legal case established that gender-critical views are protected as a belief under the Equality Act.

“This legal opinion relates specifically to the KCL promotion policy and related EDI materials. But we think it unlikely that the problems it identifies are confined to KCL,” says the letter, also signed by Toby Young, the founder of the Free Speech Union, among others.

The letter called on King’s to “commit to an immediate and full review of its hiring and promotion criteria as well as its wider EDI policies in order to bring these into line with the law”.

Helen Joyce, the director of advocacy for Sex Matters, said the university was “imposing” a policy that left it “vulnerable to legal challenge in the employment tribunal” and it could also be “penalised by the Office for Students under new laws coming into force in August”.

“Universities need to return to their fundamental principles, recognising that diversity of thought is essential in a pluralistic, liberal society,” she added.

A King’s spokesperson said: “We’re proud of the work we’ve done to build an inclusive atmosphere on campus in collaboration with our staff networks and EDI experts. Academic staff applying for promotion choose how they provide evidence to support their individual applications against a range of specific criteria, in line with employment and higher education regulations. We regularly review all university policies to ensure compliance with changing laws.”



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Reader's comments (1)

A similar attempt here at the U of Oxford to infiltrate inappropriate EDI criteria into the appointment process for academics was seen off by the colleges given that Oxford is not (yet) totally subservient to centralised policy-making by a Senior Management Team that has drunk the Kool-Aid of the hyper-interventionist EDI cult. But doubtless the cult followers will regroup and launch another attack on the integrity of a rational selection procedure for academics - although as the article suggests perhaps the new legislation as enforced by the OfS will begin to turn the EDI tide’s promotion of a stifling intellectual orthodoxy inimical to the academic free speech and academic freedom that should prevail in universities imbued by Enlightenment critical-thinking.