Protect Freedom of Speech in our Universities

by James Caspian

Protect Freedom of Speech in our Universities

by James Caspian
James Caspian
Bath Spa University refused to allow me to pursue my research into people who reverse gender reassignment.
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James Caspian
Bath Spa University refused to allow me to pursue my research into people who reverse gender reassignment.
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Latest news!

Oct. 6, 2017

Thank you once again to all of you who have pledged and shared, enabling the case to keep afloat while we wait for the conclusion of the university's internal procedure.

The Court upheld the costs order against me, and last week the University's investigating officer concluded that the only mistake the university had made was in allowing my initial research  proposal through in the ...

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I challenged Bath Spa University’s recent refusal to allow me to research people who reverse gender reassignment, fundamentally on the basis that it might attract unpleasant comments on social media, despite having initially given me permission to do almost identical research.

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT.

Free speech and an independent academia capable of critical thought is a cornerstone of our democracy. My lawyers contend that Bath Spa University’s veto of this important research is a failure of the university to comply with its duties under the Human Rights Act and the Equality Act. If a university - a place for the exchange of ideas, discussion, dissent, questioning, research and critical thinking -  is unable to tolerate the risk of criticism, where then are left the most basic tenets of academic and intellectual freedom of enquiry? The implications for a democratic society of the suppression of information and discussion are deeply worrying. As George Orwell wrote "if liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear". (1)

Suppression of freedom of speech in universities has become a widespread problem and a threat to critical thinking and a democratic society. I believe that the only way we will change this is through the courts. This case will be groundbreaking and has the chance to set  an important legal precedent. 

The case has already has been featured extensively by the media e.g. by the BBC and the Bath Chronicle.

ABOUT ME AND HOW I HAVE BEEN AFFECTED.

I am a self employed counsellor and therapist, my working life is dedicated to helping people in distress. I am one individual taking on a large publicly funded institution – it’s rather like a cyclist facing a juggernaut. I deeply believe that the research I proposed is important to the well being of the transgendered community. It has been extremely stressful to find myself embroiled in these proceedings which I think should be of great concern to anyone who values free speech and knowledge. 

BACKGROUND

I am a counsellor and trainer specialising for over a decade in working with transgendered people. I became aware that there appear to be a growing number of people who have sought to reverse the surgery they had as part of a gender transition. As part of a Masters degree at Bath Spa University I applied for permission to research this group to find out more. Gender Reassignment Surgery includes surgery to the genitals, and for women changing to male, often removal of the breasts. I wanted to talk to the people who regretted their GRS and then had surgery to try to reverse the original surgery. There is no research into this phenomenon, and it is needed to develop insight into why this is happening and to learn from these peoples’ experiences. I was invited by the hosts to bring my findings to the European Professional Association of Transgender Health conference in Belgrade in 2017. This was not to happen, as the university vetoed my research.

Initially the university had given me permission to begin the research, and later I widened the proposal to include people who reversed their gender transition without necessarily reversing the surgery. This was because at first it was difficult to find people willing to speak openly about their reversal – one person said they were too traumatised to talk about it – confirming the need for the research. I was also contacted by a spokeswoman for a group of young women in the US who had transitioned to male, had their breasts removed, then reversed the transition. They wanted me to know that they didn’t reverse their surgery, and so wouldn’t qualify for my research. I then decided to include those who reversed transition without reversing surgery, as there appeared to be a growing number of people in this group too, and yet there was little current research or discussion of this in the gender field.

In November 2016 Bath Spa University refused my re-application, fundamentally on the basis that it might attract unpleasant comments on social media, which they said might be detrimental to the reputation of the university. In January 2017 there was a final ruling which supported this decision.

WHERE THE CASE IS NOW.

As the university rejected this line of study without, it appeared, any effective recourse to a review or appeal, I prepared to apply for a judicial review of their decision. Judicial Review applications have to be made 'promptly but in any event within three months' of the decision complained of so to protect my position I made the application but asked that the case be held in abeyance whilst the University considered my complaint. The High Court refused to do this and also refused me permission to carry on. Worse still, the Court ordered me to pay the university's legal costs of £4,929 which I contested.

The Court upheld the costs order against me, and last week the University's investigating officer concluded that the only mistake the university had made was in allowing my initial research  proposal through in the first place, saying that it warranted higher scrutiny. There is the possibility of a final meeting with them to object to the investigating officer's findings, but I am anticipating that we will be re-applying for permission to proceed to Judicial Review as soon as the investigation is formally concluded. 

I am now crowdfunding for an additional £15,000 to cover legal fees and costs, and court fees. 

NEXT STEPS

On conclusion of the university's complaints procedure we will re-apply for permission to proceed to Judicial Review in the High Court.

(1) George Orwell: ‘The Freedom of the Press’
First published: The Times Literary Supplement, September 15, 1972.




Latest news!

Oct. 6, 2017

Thank you once again to all of you who have pledged and shared, enabling the case to keep afloat while we wait for the conclusion of the university's internal procedure.

The Court upheld the costs order against me, and last week the University's investigating officer concluded that the only mistake the university had made was in allowing my initial research  proposal through in the first place, saying that it warranted higher scrutiny. There is the possibility of a final meeting with them to object to the investigating officer's findings, but I am anticipating that we will be re-applying for permission to proceed to Judicial Review as soon as the investigation is formally concluded. 

Please can you email five friends asking them to pledge to the case, post a link to Facebook asking friends to pledge and share, tweet in support, or pledge again if you are able to.

NEXT STEPS

On conclusion of the university's complaints procedure if their decision is unchanged we will re-apply for permission to proceed to Judicial Review in the High Court.

Update on the case

July 13, 2017

Thankyou to all who have pledged and supported this case to protect freedom of speech in our universities!

Your generosity has enabled my lawyers to continue this stage of the case, which is to object to the costs order imposed by the court on behalf of Bath Spa University, the Defendant. Thousands of people have read the page and seen the facebook campaign, and continue to do so, and we have succeeded in raising over 50% more than the initial target of £2,000, so this stage has been a resounding success! 

The next stage also depends upon the conclusion of Bath Spa University's internal complaints procedure, as this has to be finished before we can re-apply for a judicial review of their refusal to allow me to carry out my research into people who reversed gender reassignment surgery and gender reassignment.  It is apparent that the suppression of free speech in academia is a widespread problem, and I believe it is one that we need to address. To this end I have started a Facebook page called Free Speech Matters, and I will continue working on this while waiting for the court's decision and the university complaints procedure to conclude. See
https://www.facebook.com/Free-Speech-Matters-1328499793930891/

Further updates will be posted here as soon as things move forward, so keep in touch!


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