Professor Richard Bugg’s federal lawsuit asks a judge to issue an injunction against the university to stop it from requiring him to use the student’s preferred pronouns, which ungrammatically include plural pronouns. In an effort to compromise, he had offered to use any name for the student or singular pronouns, but the university, located in Cedar City, Utah, said that was not enough.
Southern Utah University officials required Bugg, following an investigation, to submit to training about personal pronouns.
“Professor Richard Bugg [must] submit to education about current views and opinions of English language and grammar experts and resources that using Gender-Neutral pronouns when referring to an individual is now considered grammatically correct,” one sanction stated.
The university warned Bugg, a tenured instructor, that refusing to use someone’s preferred pronouns would be considered a violation of university policy and could lead to his being fired. His decision would be considered a violation of the university’s rules against non-discrimination, harassment and sexual misconduct.
“I …am opposed to the coercion of speech that is taking place on our campus and on most campuses,” Bugg says. “Asking people to use plural pronouns to refer to individuals is one thing. Forcing them to do it is another and contrary to our rights of free speech.”
His attorneys observe that “non-binary” individuals can have ever changing pronouns, and argue that a professor cannot be expected to keep track of every student’s pronouns.
“There are at least several dozen recently-coined specific gender pronouns by which non-binary students may potentially choose to have themselves addressed,” Bugg’s court complaint stated. “As but a small example, these pronouns include not only ‘They’ and ‘Them’, but also, e.g., Zie, Ze, Sie, Ey, Ve, Tey, E, Zieself, Hirself, Eirself, Verself, Terself, Emself, Hir, Xe, Xem, Hy, Hym, Co and Coz.”
The student who complained “expressed to classmates that [the student’s] goal was to get the Professor fired because he would not agree to [the student’s] demands,” according to the plaintiff’s complaint.
“To further that goal, the record reflects that Complainant exerted strong pressure on Complainant’s classmates to boycott the Professor’s class,” the lawsuit alleged. The complaining student also “demanded that the University establish an alternate so-called ‘shadow class’ for those who would go along with Complainant’s plan for a boycott of the Professor’s class.”
One federal appeals court ruled in the past that setting up such shadow classes violates the First Amendment rights of the professor they are aimed at. See Levin v. Harleston, 966 F.2d 85 (2d Cir. 1992).
The university’s response to the lawsuit claims there is not a specific policy covering the use of someone’s pronouns, but that recent guidance issued by the Biden administration requires such use:
“While there is no SUU policy that specifically requires the use of gender pronouns, the University must strictly adhere to federal regulations regarding anti-discrimination (Policy 5.27) and sexual misconduct (Policy 5.60) under Title VII and Title IX respectively,” the university stated. “Those regulations were updated in January 2021 with the Biden Administration expanding the definition of sex to include gender identity. SUU employees are required to follow these federal guidelines, just as are all people who are employed in either the private or public sectors.”
SUU’s demand should be rejected as having no basis in the civil-rights laws, even assuming they cover discrimination based on transgender status. What the transgender student was seeking was not equal treatment of the transgendered, but a preference in their favor. Non-trangender people have no right to force co-workers to use plural words to refer to them, or to violate basic grammatical rules, so trangender people should not, either. Courts have ruled that federal civil rights laws do not create a right to affirmative action or special treatment, in cases such as Coalition for Economic Equity v. Wilson (1997).