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Feminist academic to bring case against Open University

Jo Phoenix, a gender critical feminist and a Professor of Criminology at the Open University (OU) since 2016, has said she plans to bring the OU to an employment tribunal “to hold the OU to account for the public campaign of harassment that has made my working life unbearable.”

Phoenix claims that the university failed to protect her from “vicious bullying…designed to silence us and our research.” The OU, Phoenix says, failed to remove “discriminatory and hate-filled statements” which OU staff had published about Phoenix on the OU website.

Phoenix is perhaps best known to the public for a 2019 incident in which the University of Essex cancelled a seminar she was due to speak at “due to security concerns.” Those security concerns related to threats from student activists to barricade the room if Phoenix spoke, on the basis that she was “a transphobe,” and the circulation of a flyer which contained “violent and profane imagery” which was directed at Phoenix.

The University of Essex formally apologised to Phoenix earlier this year, after an investigation concluded that the University had infringed her freedom of speech “without justification” and had failed to “undertake a timely investigation” into the above flyer.

Whilst initially describing her relationship with the OU as “a love match” Phoenix says that the situation at the OU “started to go horribly wrong” after she expressed views regarding the “silencing of academic debate on trans issues,” and set up the Open University Gender Critical Research Network.

Phoenix says that she was subsequently “publicly vilified by hundreds of my colleagues in a targeted campaign” and that she had been called “transphobic” and “racist” due to her gender critical beliefs. This is a reference to a public letter, signed by over 360 members of staff at the OU, which attacked the formation of the Gender Critical Research Network and alleged that gender critical feminism was “fundamentally hostile to the rights of trans people.”

Phoenix also claims that a “senior manager” at the OU told her that she was “like the racist uncle at the Christmas dinner table,” and that the OU’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Representative retweeted material showing a photo of Phoenix alongside remarks about a “transphobic/TERF/GC campaign network.”

Phoenix has started to crowdfund for the expected cost of the case, the appeal can be read HERE.

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