Former student rejects compensation from University after transphobia controversy

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A former Durham University student who made national news in a row over transphobia has rejected an offer of compensation of £1,000 from the University.

claimed he had been subject to “harassment and bullying” by the Department of Philosophy after a post he shared on Twitter in 2018, which read “RT [retweet] if women don’t have penises”. It linked to an article in The Spectator on the same subject, and led to his removal as assistant editor of Durham’s Philosophy journal, Critique, his dismissal as General Editor of The Bubble, and, under mounting pressure, his resignation as President-Elect of Humanist Students.

Chris Ward, former Chair of LGBT Humanists, described the tweet as “horrific” and “transphobic.”

Earlier this year, a letter of apology was issued to Sofocleous via the Student Conduct Office. In a statement to Palatinate Sofocleous questioned “how honest and heartfelt any apology is if it’s communicated via a third party”. Sofocleous also claimed he had been subject to “victim blaming”.

Sofocleous received support at the time from figures such as journalist and former Director of the New Schools Network, Toby Young, who, in response to Sofocleous’ dismissal as from Critique, tweeted “Shouldn’t you be encouraging debate about important issues rather than stifling it?”

Sofocleous also filed a complaint to Durham Students’ Union (DSU) regarding his “unfair treatment”. The complaint was upheld and DSU apologised for the “procedurally incorrect” nature of his dismissal, stating that while Sofocleous is “entitled to hold and express these views”, the societies were equally entitled to respond with their own expression of free speech if they deemed what he said to have been offensive and if due process was followed.

Following his appeal to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA), Sofocleous has now been offered compensation of £1,000 and another letter of apology to settle the case before it goes to a full review by the OIA.

“Durham University is opposed to any form of discrimination”

The letter, which was issued from the Head of the Philosophy Department, stated “While this [monetary compensation] will not make up for your negative experience, I hope it will go some way toward compensating you for your distress and inconvenience”.

Sofocleous told Palatinate that he rejected the money “because I’m not doing it for the money, but for justice. That’s also the reason that I did not request financial compensation in my initial complaint and to the complaint outcome appeal to the University.”

Haydn Lord, Transgender Officer for the Durham University Labour Club (DULC) criticised the University’s decision to compensate Sofocleous. He told Palatinate: “Apologising to and compensating someone one who promotes dangerous rhetoric that puts trans people’s. especially trans women’s/femmes, lives in danger ultimately just shows that Durham University does not care about its trans and non-binary community.

“Trans people are not just a hot topic for debate, there are real world consequences for us that far outweigh losing positions at the University.”

A Durham University spokesperson said: “The offer of compensation to Mr Sofocleous was made solely in recognition of a concern he had raised that a complaint could have been handled more swiftly and appropriately.

“This offer is in line with the guidance of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, which has reviewed this case.”

They also said: “Durham University is opposed to any form of discrimination. We are striving to build a more equal and inclusive University where all members of our community can thrive and where all staff and students feel welcome, safe, supported and valued.

“To reassure our community that we do take decisive action the University now publishes a list of sanctions and the type of offence on our website.”

Further information can be found using this link.

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