NASHVILLE -- A political backlash shows no signs of going away over the University of Tennessee's Office of Diversity and Inclusiveness' request that students and faculty use "gender-neutral" pronouns such as "ze" instead of "he" or "she."
Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson, R-Hixson, today said the Senate's Education and Government Operations committees should investigate the matter and questioned any use of taxpayer dollars to propagate what he sees as political correctness.
Meanwhile, Family Action Council of Tennessee President David Fowler, a former Republican state senator from Signal Mountain, is urging religious conservatives to phone their objections directly to UT system President Joe DiPietro's office.
In his statement, Watson said he finds it hard to swallow UT officials' assertion "that
that this does not represent the official policy of the University of Tennessee."
"I find it difficult to believe that such a ridiculous suggestion as gender-neutral pronouns would be published on a university website without leadership's approval," Watson said. "To me it suggests a lack of institutional control, and I believe the Senate Education and Government Operations committees should investigate and review."
Calling the matter "ridiculous," Watson said "Tennessee Taxpayers should not expect to be paying for this kind of stuff."
In a post on his organization's website, Fowler charged UT is "using our tax dollars to discourage people from thinking it is okay to call a man a 'he' and a woman a 'she.' Of course, UT's form of inclusiveness excludes people who think a man is a 'he' and a woman is a 'she!'
"This not just some crazy thing that will pass," Fowler said. "It reflects the new worldview running higher education in Tennessee, namely the view that there are no differences between men and women and that sex is not binary based on x and y chromosomes, but some kaleidoscope of variations imagined in one's head."
In a post last week on UT's Office of Diversity and Inclusiveness' website, UT Pride Center Director, Donna Braquet, offered the new pronouns to create a more inclusie campus for gays, lesbians and transgender students.
"Transgender people and people who do not identify within the gender binary may use a different name than their legal name and pronouns of their gender identity, rather than the pronouns of the sex they were assigned at birth," Braquet wrote.
Braquet requested that instead of calling roll, instructors ask each student to provide the name and pronoun he or she — or perhaps ze — wishes to be referred by.
University spokeswoman Karen Ann Simsen said there is no mandate or official policy to use the language.
In 2013 and 2014, UT's Knoxville campus infuriated state lawmakers as details emerged about the activities included in UTK's annual "sex week." The six-day series of lectures, games and other events -- intended to promote discussions about sexuality and safe-sex practices -- featured a lesbian bondage expert, drag show and a campuswide hunt for a "golden condom."
That too triggered an avalanche of criticism from social conservatives in the Republican-dominated Tennessee Legislature. Lawmakers wound up passing a resolution condemning it.