How to respond if a professor refuses to use a student’s gender pronoun


    Before making any formal decisions, arrange separate meetings with the professor and student to gather all the necessary facts surrounding the incident. If you are considering a major sanction against a professor, you will need to demonstrate cause.


    Consult your university’s code of conduct governing pronoun use in classrooms. Not all universities have specific policies on these matters. If your university does not have such a policy, consult any relevant ethics codes or regulations dealing with how faculty and students interact both in and outside the classroom.

    See AAUP’s “Statement on Professional Ethics”


    Both parties will want different kinds of assurances. A student in this scenario might invoke the right to an equitable education or an environment free of discrimination. A professor with sincere ideological disagreements might invoke First Amendment rights and academic freedom. Even if a professor’s conduct falls short of legal harassment or discrimination, the university may be able to address the student’s complaints by taking nonpunitive measures, such as providing the professor with educational resources on gender identity and pronouns.


    Academic freedom gives professors the right to make decisions in the classroom about pedagogy, course content, grading, and related matters. However, while professors may have the right to use whatever language they choose, refusing to address a student by their pronoun is likely not an issue of academic freedom.

    See Academic Freedom


    Consult with department chairs or others on campus to see if there have been other cases involving the misuse of student pronouns. How were they handled? What lessons were learned?


    If your university’s policy requires community members to refer to one another by their pronouns, and that policy was formulated with the help of the larger faculty body, there may be a case for official sanction of a faculty member who refuses to comply.

Further Reading