NASHVILLE — University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro informed the UT Board of Trustees on Friday that a university newsletter article advocating the use of "gender neutral" pronouns such as "ze" for "he" and "she" for some students will be removed from UT-Knoxville's Office for Diversity and Inclusion's website.
Moreover, the ensuing controversy over "ze" and "xe" and other suggested pronouns has spawned a new directive from DiPietro and UT-Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy Cheek.
The chancellor is telling campus vice chancellors "not to publish any campuswide practice or policy without his approval after review with the Cabinet."
Copies of DiPietro's letter to trustees also went to select Republican legislative leaders, who had blown up over the "gender neutral" language issue last week. They accused the Knoxville campus of "political correctness" and announced the controversy would be included in a previously scheduled Senate higher education hearing in October.
The quarterly newsletter article, written by Donna Braquet, the Knoxville campus' Pride Center director, offered the new pronouns in order to create a more inclusive campus for gays, lesbians and transgender students.
In her article, Braquet wrote, "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."
She requested that instead of calling roll, instructors ask each student to provide the name and pronoun "he" or "she" — or perhaps "ze" — wished to be referred by.
Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, and religious conservatives like David Fowler of the Family Action Council of Tennessee erupted.
Watson called it "ridiculous," while Fowler, a former Republican senator from Signal Mountain, blasted the pronouns as reflecting a "new worldview running higher education in Tennessee."
In his letter to trustees, DiPietro pointed out Braquet's article only "suggested use of 'gender-neutral' pronouns as an inclusive practice."
But the president noted, "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," DiPietro said.
"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," DiPietro wrote. "Chancellor Cheek will instruct the Vice Chancellors not to publish any campus-wide practice or policy without his approval after review with the Cabinet."
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550.