UTAH (ABC4) – A Southern Utah University (SUU) professor is suing the university, claiming that the requirement to use a student’s non-binary pronouns violates his right to free speech.

A copy of the lawsuit filed by SUU theatre faculty member, Richard Bugg, claims that the university policy compels him to “engage in what the professor considers politically sensitive speech to
which the professor is politically and educationally opposed.”

Bugg has been a professor with the department for over 30 years.

In the instance referenced in the complaint, on Sept. 9, 2021, one of the students in attendance of Bugg’s first Acting IV class of the Fall semester asked that Bugg address them using the student’s they/them pronouns.

SUU’s policy states that students are allowed to self-identify their gender and preferred pronouns, requiring others to respect these pronouns. Furthermore, the lawsuit states that the SUU Handbook “encourages non-binary students to request that professors address them by the pronouns of the student’s choice, rather than a specified list of pronouns that are compulsory if they are requested but not used.”

Instead of using the student’s preferred pronouns, documents state that Bugg, “instead offered to use Complainant’s name or whatever singular pronouns or proper name Complainant preferred in order to accommodate Complainant and make Complainant feel as comfortable as possible without violating the Professor’s own deeply-held beliefs and convictions.”

Additionally, when Professor Bugg made attempts to refrain from using the student’s female pronouns, he “unintentionally did so two or three times.”

The student involved, and an additional student who said they were made uncomfortable by Bugg’s noncompliance, then reportedly filed a complaint to the University’s Title IX Office on Sept. 15, 2021.

“Before filing this formal complaint, Complainant (the student) expressed to classmates that Complainant’s goal was to get the Professor fired because he would not agree to Complainant’s demands,” documents show.

The university launched an investigation into Bugg’s reported actions on Sept. 20, 2021.

On Jan. 6, 2022, the investigation determined that the professor’s refusal to use the student’s preferred constituted as “discrimination and harassment based on gender identity.”

The report additionally notes that Bugg’s opposition of the student’s preferred pronouns can be constituted as sexual harassment due to the fact that his behavior was “conduct based on sex” that was “so severe, pervasive,” and “objectively offensive,” that it “effectively denied” the student “equal access to (the) University Education Program or Activity.”

Nearly four months later on May 3, 2022, the University’s Assistant Vice President of Human Resources, Kevin Price issued a letter to SUU’s Title IX Coordinator establishing the three sanctions that follow against Bugg:

“Professor Richard Bugg submit to education about current views and opinions of English language and grammar experts and resources that using Gender-Neutral pronouns when referring to an individual is now considered grammatically correct.

This action and decision stand as written warning regarding the use of preferred pronouns. If Professor Bugg continues to refuse to make a good faith effort to use preferred pronouns it will be considered an additional violation of policy 5.60 and 5.27 and may result in further sanction up to and including termination.

If Professor Bugg refuses to make a good faith effort to use pronouns requested by SUU students, and as a result, students refuse to register for sections of classes he teaches, SUU will open additional section of those classes and Professor Bugg’s pay will be reduced to offset the amounts SUU must pay for the additional sections.”

Bugg reacted by reportedly appealing from the sanctions on May 26, 2022. According to the lawsuit, Bugg’s appeal was later denied by SUU Provost Jon Anderson on June 14, 2022, who tacked on a fourth sanction against Bugg, implementing the following:

“Professor Richard Bugg must review, and edit as necessary, his syllabus language to ensure it aligns with department guidance related to gender pronouns, and submit the syllabus for approval by the Department Chair two weeks before the start of the Fall 2022 semester.”

The lawsuit goes on to reveal that following sanctions placed against him, Bugg made requests for the University to make several statements in his defense, declaring that his “conduct did not in fact violate SUU’s written policies,” among other things.

ABC4 has reached out to Southern Utah University for comment on the lawsuit.