UT backing away from gender-neutral pronoun suggestion

The university has insisted it wasn’t a policy change, but only a suggestion

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro sent a letter to the Board of Trustees Friday, saying he is “deeply concerned” about the media attention garnered by an article by UT’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion about gender-neutral pronouns.

In a campus newsletter and a post on the university website, the office asked students and faculty to use the pronouns in order to create a more inclusive campus. They say it alleviates a heavy burden for people expressing different genders or identities.

The suggestion to use pronouns such as “ze, hir, hirs, and xe, xem, xyr” has received national media attention and ire from some state politicians. Lt. Gov. Rom Ramsey said earlier this week the suggestion was “political correctness gone amok,” and if the school doesn’t take the post off its website, he would take it to Nashville, possibly to try and do away with the department that created the post.

The university has insisted it wasn’t a policy change, but only a suggestion.

DiPietro’s letter said all references to gender-neutral pronouns would be removed and no campus-wide practices or policies will be posted without his approval. As of Friday evening, the suggestion was no longer on the university’s website.

The letter reads in full:

I am writing concerning the recent article written in the quarterly newsletter published by UT, Knoxville’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion, which suggested use of “gender-neutral pronouns” as an inclusive practice. Despite the aggressive efforts by UT, Knoxville to communicate the fact that the campus does not require the use of gender-neutral pronouns, I am deeply concerned about the attention this matter continues to receive and the harm it has had on the reputation of the University of Tennessee.

The social issues and practices raised by the Office for Diversity and Inclusion are appropriate ones for discussion on a university campus. However, it was not appropriate to do so in a manner that suggests it is the expectation that all on campus embrace these practices.

Chancellor Cheek and I have agreed that references to the use of gender-neutral pronouns will be removed from the Office for Diversity and Inclusion website. Chancellor Cheek will instruct the Vice Chancellors not to publish any campus-wide practice or policy without his approval after review with the Cabinet.

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