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Professor sues SUU after sanctions for refusing to use they/them pronouns for a student

Sep 1, 2022, 4:57 PM | Updated: 5:22 pm
FILE: Southern Utah University. (SUU/Facebook)...
FILE: Southern Utah University. (SUU/Facebook)
(SUU/Facebook)

CEDAR CITY, Utah — A professor is suing Southern Utah University after being disciplined for refusing to use the preferred pronouns of “they/them” for a non-binary student in his class.

According to the lawsuit, Richard Bugg has been a professor at SUU for 30 years teaching theater.

When a student in his class, who identified as non-binary requested to be referred to by they/them pronouns, Bugg refused but “offered to address that student either by the student’s name or by the traditional singular pronouns of the student’s choice.”

The demand is pursuant to a university policy which interpreted by school officials, “requires professors to address students by whatever personal pronouns the student insists upon, including not only plural pronouns, but also, on demand, a seemingly endless array of newly-invented pronouns such as, e.g., Zie, Sie, Ey, Ve, Tey and E, to name but a few.”

Bugg is now suing, claiming his right to free speech was violated by the university’s requirement for professors to address students by their preferred pronouns.

His stance is listed in the lawsuit:

“I … am opposed to the coercion of speech that is taking place on our campus and on most campuses. 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.”

The lawsuit states that “The Professor declined [the student’s] demand to be addressed with plural pronouns but, instead offered to use [the student’s] name or whatever singular pronouns or proper name [the student] preferred in order to accommodate [the student] and make [the student] feel as comfortable as possible without violating the Professor’s own deeply-held beliefs and convictions.”

However, the lawsuit explains that Bugg attempted to not use female pronouns, but did unintentionally use female pronouns to refer to the student on two or three occasions.

Two filed complaints with the Title IX office, the student involved and another student that said they were offended by the exchange and the professor’s refusal.

The first complaint was filed on Sept. 15, 2021 and five days after, an investigation was initiated.

The investigative report was issued on Jan. 6 “the refusal to “address [the student] by their personal pronouns” was in violation of University Policies 5.27 and 5.60 and was “‘discrimination’ and ‘harassment’ based on gender identity.”

Bugg was issued a letter by Kevin Price, the assistant vice president of human resources, with the following disciplinary sanctions:

a. Professor Richard Bugg 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.

b. This action and decision stand as written warning regarding the use of preferred pronouns. If Professor Bugg continues to refuse to make a good faith effort to use preferred pronouns it will be  considered an additional violation of policy 5.60 and 5.27 and may result in further sanction up to and including termination.

c. If Professor Bugg refuses to make a good faith effort to use pronouns requested by SUU students, and as a result, students refuse to register for sections of classes he teaches, SUU will open additional section of those classes and Professor Bugg’s pay will be reduced to offset the amounts SUU must pay for the additional sections.”

Bugg appealed the sanctions on May 26, but his appeal was denied on June 14.

Following the appeal, the SUU Provost Jon Anderson added a sanction stating Bugg “must review, and edit as necessary, his syllabus language to ensure it aligns with department guidance related to gender pronouns, and submit the syllabus for approval by the department chair two weeks before the start of the fall 2022 semester.”

KSL TV reached out to SUU for comment but had not heard back in time for this publication.

The lawsuit comes just days after outrage over counselors sharing preferred pronouns in a Farmington Jr. High school. 

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Professor sues SUU after sanctions for refusing to use they/them pronouns for a student