University ‘blocks’ academic from her own gender wars research over ‘dangerous’ data

University ‘blocks’ academic from her own gender wars research over ‘dangerous’ data

City, University of London, insists it is committed to free and open-minded discussion

Dr Laura Favaro is now bringing an employment tribunal claim against City, University of London CREDIT: John Lawrence

A university has “confiscated” the findings of an academic studying Britain’s gender wars in a row over her “dangerous” research data, The Telegraph can reveal.

Dr Laura Favaro began the first ever taxpayer-funded study into whether social scientists at universities feel censored over their views on transgender issues in March 2020 at City, University of London.

But it has descended into chaos, with the study’s author allegedly hounded out of the university, stripped of the findings she collected and barred from publishing them amid claims of transphobia.

Dr Favaro is now bringing an employment tribunal claim against City for harassment, victimisation and whistleblowing detriment, and claims she was discriminated against for her protected philosophical belief in the reality of biological sex.

The postdoctoral researcher was invited to move from Spain to City’s Department of Sociology to conduct the study, which received £18,000 from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the equalities watchdog, and £10,000 from the British Academy. She produced a summary report on her findings for the EHRC that still has not been published.

Hundreds of documents

Her study involved 50 individual interviews with academics in gender studies who identified as feminists, a representative survey of social scientists with 650 responses and hundreds of documents and tweets.

Scholars told her that they had threats of violence in the gender debate, hostility from colleagues, and others said they felt their careers “can’t survive that sort of backlash”, and that they have to have “secret conversations” to avoid reprisal and because “we are all so afraid”.

Her final work has not been published, as it was derailed by complaints about an article for Times Higher Education in which she warned that “a culture of discrimination, silencing and fear has taken hold”.

Following this, she says, her line managers told her that the study had “become an institutionally sensitive issue” and that “City considers my data to be dangerous” and is “frightened of making it public”.

A research participant who “did not like the findings” and academics sympathetic to trans issues were among those who complained. One, Dr Sahra Taylor, a City lecturer, claimed it was an “attack piece on trans people [and] our existences” that has “clearly caused harm to many interviewed”.

‘Locked the email account’

City found following an investigation that there was “no evidence” that the research breached any ethics criteria.

But City allegedly locked the email account Dr Favaro used to communicate with survey respondents, and demanded that she hand over all of her interview and survey data and delete any copies of it, before making her redundant on March 31, despite her claiming she has a permanent contract. Dr Favaro also claims City rejected her offer to give a talk on her findings.

It means she cannot publish her survey or deposit it in the UK Data Archive, as she had hoped to, and feels her career is now in ruins.

Dr Favaro told The Telegraph: “Those with a responsibility to support me have frustrated my ability to progress with the research or denied expected support via actions as well as omissions to act. This includes being ignored, ostracised, bullied, harassed – ending with a dismissal and confiscation of my data.

“It feels like a never-ending nightmare, dystopian, so unjust. All I have been trying to do is my job as a sociologist. There was a social conflict, so I asked questions, collected data, reported on the findings, offered an analysis. That is my job.

“In contrast to all my expectations, I leave with poor employment prospects because I have been unable to publish findings or even attend interviews. My experience at City has left me exhausted, traumatised and with broken self-esteem.

“I want my research data back. I want to make the anonymised survey accessible to other researchers by depositing in the UK Data Archive as per my commitment to the funder and participants, and I want to publish findings. I owe this to myself, my family, my participants, and society.”

‘Significant and concerning’

Her solicitor Peter Daly, a partner at London law firm Doyle Clayton, said: “Dr Favaro’s treatment raises significant and concerning questions about the freedom of academics to properly pursue research.

“We are in the process of preparing an employment tribunal claim on her behalf, which we anticipate will succeed if litigated to a conclusion.”

A spokesman for City, University of London, said it was “unable to comment on employment matters relating to individual members of staff” but “we refute the allegations made against us and reject the context in which they are presented” and “take our obligations with respect to ethics and integrity very seriously”.

The spokesman added: “At City, we have a legal obligation to protect freedom of expression that we take very seriously. We uphold academic freedom of inquiry in our education and research and are committed to ensuring that free and open-minded discussion can take place.

“… As controller of any personal data processed in the course of any research it is also very important to City that personal data is processed in compliance with data protection legislation. City has a robust framework in place to support compliance.”

A spokesman for the EHRC said: “We agreed to publish the summary report provided to us by Dr Favaro once her final report was published, as this would enable us to link, as appropriate, to her wider findings. Due to legal proceedings it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

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