Armacost says decision to stop work on proposed gender inclusion policy was multifaceted
The UND president said legislative funding is always a factor facing higher education leaders when making campus decisions.
GRAND FORKS — UND President Andrew Armacost said his decision to stop work on the university’s gender inclusion policy was multifaceted, including whether the university’s legislative funding could be impacted if the policy was implemented.
Armacost sent a letter to campus on Friday morning stating the university would cease work on a draft policy that would make intentionally misgendering a person as potential act of discrimination.
The draft policy was apparently discussed during the special session of the North Dakota Legislature this fall, Armacost said.
While there was no specific legislation put forward regarding the draft policy, Armacost said the university had learned about discussions that had apparently taken place during the session regarding potential funding cuts if the university did implement the policy. Armacost said those discussions were not with him directly and the university never saw such a proposal or what it could have looked like.
“From our understanding, it was tied directly to the gender inclusion policy,” he told the Herald late Friday night. “Nobody called to issue such a direct threat.”
Legislators have taken a similar approach before, however, Armacost noted. During the Legislature’s regular session last spring, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 2030. The bill, while originally tied to Challenge Grant dollars, was amended to penalize North Dakota’s universities for associating with abortion providers or supporters. Gov. Doug Burgum ultimately gave a partial veto on the bill, removing the parts of the legislation that would penalize any of the state's 11 colleges and universities $2.8 million for such a partnership.
Armacost noted that was an example of the Legislature “speaking with the power of the purse.”
“I fully recognize and appreciate the fact that the legislators certainly have the ability to make such a decision,” Armacost said.
Armacost met with members of the campus’ LGBTQ+ community on Thursday evening to discuss the factors at hand as he was preparing to decide on the policy’s future.
He noted the decision to cease work on the policy was not solely driven by potential loss of funds, but was also the “result of the recent discussions and because existing policies already provide equal opportunity protections to all of our campus members.”
Charles Vondal, president of UND’s Queer & Trans Alliance, was one of the students who met with Armacost the previous night. He said he knows Armacost would “fight tooth and nail for us, it's just sometimes you have to make a choice and sometimes that choice affects a minority.”
Just because this policy wasn’t implemented on campus, it doesn’t mean the organization will give up, Vondal said. While they’ve lost one “battle,” it “doesn’t mean we’ve lost the war," Vondal said.
“Although we've lost this one, we’ve got to keep stepping forward,” Vondal said. “The one thing we want to focus on now is educating people on why pronouns are important. … We're not trying to force anybody. It's just respect.”
Armacost added that his priority when developing the policy was to make sure the university had protections in place for the LGBTQ community. The draft policy “merely pointed to protections already in place,” Armacost said.
“The removal of the policy as we did does not impact those protections, those important protections that are in place,” he said.
— The Herald's Adam Kurtz also contributed to this story.