Professor files lawsuit after being investigated for not addressing male student with feminine pronouns

An Ohio professor who was placed under investigation for declining to address a male student who identifies as female with feminine pronouns has filed suit, stating that he should not be forced to violate his Christian convictions.

Dr. Nicholas Meriwether, a philosophy professor at Shawnee State University, says that for many years, he has referred to his students as “mister” or “miss” or “sir” or “ma’am” as a way of teaching his students how to be respectful to each other, especially in environments where there is sharp disagreement over a controversial subject matter.

In January, during his political philosophy class, he responded to a male student’s question with a “Yes, sir,” but was approached by the student after class, who advised that he identifies as female and would prefer to be referred to with feminine pronouns.

According to the legal challenge, Meriwether thought for a moment and then told the student that he was not sure if he could comply with the request. The student consequently became angry and spouted a vulgarity in close proximity to Meriwether’s face. He allegedly threatened to have the professor fired if he did not refer to him as a woman.

Meriwether reported the incident to university officials, and was instructed by Roberta Milliken, the dean of the university’s college of arts and sciences, to refer to students by their last name only, eliminating any use of pronouns. Meriwether wasn’t sold on the idea, as he thought it felt more like something a football coach would do, as opposed to a philosophy professor.

However, he told Milliken that he would do so in regard to the particular student, while using pronouns for everyone else.

Days later, Milliken approached Meriwether to advise that the student was unhappy with only being called by his last name and had threatened to file a Title IX complaint. Milliken, who originally agreed with Meriwether’s arrangement, told Meriwether that he must refer to the student by his preferred pronoun or he would be in violation of the university’s non-discrimination policy.

Meriwether replied that he would be willing to refer to the student by his desired name, but would not use any titles in front of it, such as “mister” or “miss.” The student went on to complete the class and was given a high grade.

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Brian Sussman

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