One of the aims of Oxford University Student Union is to provide “forums for discussions and debate for the personal development of students:, according to its own manifesto.

But the students’ body has become notorious in recent weeks for the exact opposite, campaigning to silence a speaker whose views it dislikes, and in so doing, also obstructing the maturation of its members’ young minds.

The confrontation between the union and Professor Kathleen Stock, who has been invited by the separate Oxford Union to the university, marks a high noon in these kinds of hostilities.

This dispute at this university follows a now familiar pattern: a gender critical guest, usually a woman, is deemed transphobic by a handful of undergraduate activists and the event they are to grace is threatened with cancellation.

In Edinburgh last month, student protesters successfully blocked, for the second time, the screening of a film about women’s rights.

Durham tried to oust a college principal, Tim Luckhurst, who not only brought a controversialist (Rod Liddle) to campus but also called students “pathetic” for complaining they felt “unsafe”.

In Stock’s former university, Sussex, students, abetted by cowardly staff, went even further and managed, by a process of sustained intimidation, to force the professor out of the job she had held for 20 years.

Since then, though, Stock, who believes that sex is an immutable biological fact distinct from gender, has defied the mob and become one of our most eloquent champions of the right to be heard. 

From being a little known, redbrick don, she is now the go-to gal for defining and defending feminist philosophy, a fearless crusader on behalf of the many women and girls made mute by trans bullies.

Oxford students, in picking on Stock, have scored something of an own goal. They should have remembered what happened at Cambridge last year, when students attempted to stop the academic from addressing the Cambridge Union.

In the end, their heckling, supported by some lecturers, was to no avail; the debate went ahead, was packed to the rafters, and Stock won on the motion, “This house has the right to offend”.

The philosopher appears to have staying power. Oxford Union has stood by its star speaker, in the face of the mounting student hysteria, and so, now, have a clutch of big faculty names, including Professors Carl Heneghan and Richard Dawkins.

In a letter to the Telegraph this week, some 40 Oxford scholars called on their university to protect free speech. 

“Universities must remain places where contentious views can be openly discussed,” they said, arguing that it was unacceptable to “suppress the expression of controversial, but potentially true, viewpoints in an effort to prevent them from becoming more widely known”.

One of the dons who signed the letter, Professor Lawrence Goldman, has subsequently urged the university to defund the Student Union if it refuses to uphold Oxford’s academic freedoms. 

But while tempting as a wake-up call to irresponsible student politicians, this would be a too harsh measure, given that a union represents more than its loudmouth radicals.

At Oxford, for instance, hundreds of clubs benefit from student union funding, from obscure music societies, to karate clubs, climate change groups, a Christian Union, Oxford Conservatives and Oxford Marxists; there is even a Harry Potter society (though one wonders if it is permitted to acknowledge its putative patron, J.K Rowling).

In other words, a typical cross section of hobbies and passions, all equally legitimate and deserving of the charitable largesse (around £1 million annually in Oxford’s case) bestowed on a student body.

The vast majority of Oxford students will not be involved in the Kathleen Stock row, and some may only have learnt of her existence through their Student Union’s totalitarian bid to ban her.

Hopefully, in discovering Stock, they will also be exposed to her arguments, which their union officials are so desperate to keep under wraps.

When – I don’t think it’s an ‘if’ – Stock arrives to speak at Oxford on May 30, there will be protests, as is to be expected on issues as divisive as transgender politics. Drums may be banged, slogans may be chanted and perhaps eggs will be thrown, students being students.

But the grown-ups will prevail, the philosopher will have her platform and alternative voices will be expressed in the democratic environment of the debating chamber.

The legacy of this all too predictable clash will, at best, be a reset in the way university authorities deal with student sedition. 

If Oxford, caught in the headlights, can insist on “free inquiry and the disinterested pursuit of the truth”, as the academics put it, other lily-livered institutions – that’s you, Edinburgh, Durham, Bristol – may take note.

And, if nothing else is achieved, Professor Stock will once again have been offered the oxygen of publicity by the very people determined to shut her up.

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