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UND stops work on proposed gender inclusion policy

Armacost wrote that uncertainties exist about the consequences of not following the draft policy’s guidance on using preferred pronouns on campus for students, faculty, and staff. Under that proposed policy, intentionally misgendering a person could be seen as an act of discrimination.

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GRAND FORKS — UND has stopped work on a proposed gender inclusion policy that caught the attention of the North Dakota Catholic Conference and sparked a community conversation.

In a message released on the morning of Friday, Jan. 21, UND President Andrew Armacost announced the decision to cease work on the policy. Armacost wrote that uncertainties exist about the consequences of not following the draft policy’s guidance on using preferred pronouns on campus for students, faculty and staff. Under that proposed policy, intentionally misgendering a person could be seen as an act of discrimination.

“As a result of the recent discussions and because existing policies already provide equal opportunity protections to all of our campus members, UND will cease its work on this draft policy and will not implement it,” wrote Armacost.

According to a UND spokesman, Armacost personally met with members of the university’s LGBTQ+ community to discuss the issue of the proposed policy.

Armacost ultimately made his decision after hearing feedback on the policy from various groups both on campus and off. He then informed members of the State Board of Higher Education, legislators and alumni of his decision to cease work on the policy.

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When the policy first was proposed, Christopher Dodson, the Catholic Conference’s executive director, wrote that some universities are enacting policies that are hostile to the Catholic religion, and thereby impose “flawed ideologies on students but also restrict their rights to free speech and religion.” Dodson specifically referenced UND in the letter.

In a Friday morning message, Dodson commended the move to stop work on the policy. Dodson wondered if the policy could have led to students of different birth genders being housed together.

Still, Dodson wrote that all members of the campus community need to feel welcome.

"We appreciate and support UND’s commitment to providing a safe and respectful environment that respects the free speech and religious rights of all students, faculty, staff and campus visitors. No one should feel unwelcome on our state’s campuses," Dodson wrote.

On Wednesday evening, before he made the decision to stop work on the policy, Armacost attended a session of the Student Senate to discuss the complexities surrounding the issue. At that meeting, the Student Senate passed a resolution in support of the policy.

In his message, Armacost wrote that UND has a strong track record when it comes to free speech protections. The university has a “green light” rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, an organization that supports the rights of students and faculty members in American universities.

Stopping work on the policy, he continued, should not be seen as a lessening of support for people on campus.

After the Catholic Conference made its comments in the letter, Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski wrote on Facebook that he supports the letter "wholeheartedly."

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It sparked local debate over the subject, and Tuesday, during a regular meeting of the City Council, several people spoke during the public-input segment. Bochenski then apologized for the language he used in his post, calling it "unduly harsh."

Related Topics: UNIVERSITY OF NORTH DAKOTA
Adam Kurtz is the community editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He covers higher education and other topics in Grand Forks County and the city.

Kurtz joined the Herald in July 2019. He covered business and county government topics before covering higher education and some military topics.

Tips and story ideas are welcome. Get in touch with him at akurtz@gfherald.com, or DM at @ByAdamKurtz.

Desk: 701-780-1110
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