It’s heartening to see so many people making contributions to former law lecturer and Free Speech Union member Dr Almut Gadow’s legal crowdfunder. (Click here to take a look at the supportive comments that donors have been leaving on Dr Gadow’s page.)
Supported by the Free Speech Union, Dr Gadow is bringing a case against the Open University (OU), arguing that she was harassed, discriminated against and unfairly dismissed because she rejects gender identity ideology.
Almut was sacked by the OU after questioning requirements to embed gender identity in the institution’s law curriculum. During the academic year 2021-22, the university’s equality, diversity and inclusion team announced plans to “incorporate its political ideologies” across the curriculum. The “liberating the curriculum” policy that resulted was, Almut says, “effectively a checklist of ideological compliance”.
Dr Gadow raised concerns about various requirements, including introducing diverse gender identities into the curriculum and teaching students to use offenders’ preferred pronouns. She argued that a criminal lawyer’s role “is to present facts” and that “sex is a relevant fact for offences involving perpetrators’ and/or victims’ bodies”. Dr Gadow also made the case that “no offender should be allowed to dictate the language of his case in a way which masks relevant facts”.
To her disbelief, managers who spotted these forum posts described her requests for engagement as “serious insubordination” and accused her of creating an environment not “inclusive, trans-friendly or respectful”. Months later, her posts were cited as reasons for her dismissal.
This is the Free Speech Union’s most ambitious crowdfunder yet, and for good reason: not only does Almut deserve justice for the egregious way she’s been treated, but this case provides the best opportunity yet to establish a legal precedent in favour of academic freedom that will protect all British academics.
The concept of academic freedom is robustly protected at an international level and includes protections for scholars who question curricula or criticise their institution. But the UK courts have yet to properly consider how this European case law applies at the domestic level.
In seeking judicial guidance from an English employment tribunal – and by arguing that belief in academic freedom should be a recognised protected belief under the Equality Act 2010 that is ‘worthy of respect’ – in the same way gender critical beliefs are – we hope to set a precedent which will entrench academic freedom protections domestically.
We also think that Almut’s case will give the tribunal an opportunity to explain how well-understood concepts of employment law, such as reasonableness and proportionality, are modulated and influenced by the significant international law protection for academic freedom in such a way as to make it harder to dismiss other academics in the future.
Almut’s legal crowdfunder is now just £6,500 short of its initial £70,000 target. This first tranche of money will cover the cost of the preliminary hearing, disclosure of documents and preparation of a trial bundle.
If you can, please donate and help Almut launch a case that in the words of Prof Kathleen Stock, “will be of great significance, not just to University staff, but to the young minds they teach in future” – the link to the legal crowdfunder is here.