The July 25 front-page article on the proposal under consideration at the University of Minnesota regarding gender equity (“He, she or ze? U wrestles with inclusivity rules”) starts off with the alarming claim that “Using the wrong pronoun could turn into a firing offense at the University of Minnesota.” The article correctly quotes my doubts that anyone would be punished for a mere slip of the tongue. My reason for this judgment is based largely on the fact that the proposed policy adds discrimination or harassment on the basis of gender identity or gender expression to existing prohibitions of discriminatory or harassing behavior on other grounds, such as one’s race, religion, sex or disability. Thus any disciplinary action would fit into that established pattern of response for other behaviors in the workplace that the university discourages. A sexist joke or racist comments call for interventions from one’s colleagues or supervisors; only repeated and deliberately disrespectful behaviors would call for escalated response.
Melissa Harl Sellew, St. Paul
The writer is an associate professor of classical and Near Eastern studies at the University of Minnesota.
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I am deeply saddened that the Star Tribune dug up exhausted and inflammatory arguments about pronoun use and political correctness to drive clicks. As I saw this trending as a top story, I had to ask: “What is the scoop? Where is the news?” I lean to the Star Tribune for quality news, breaking through the noise in our current media environment. We don’t need manufactured stories aimed to drive Minnesotans further apart. The university is making strides toward inclusion. Perhaps flawed in some ways, nevertheless those at the school are putting themselves out there. They are trying, honestly. I expect the Star Tribune to do the same.
Dr. Phillip Plager, Minneapolis
The writer is a resident physician in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Minnesota.
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I am disappointed by this sensationalist take on a sincere effort to make the university a more just and more inclusive place. The proposed policy may or may not be perfect. But the goal is consistent with the highest ideals of the university. Here’s how it works in my life: People sometimes tell me their preferred pronouns. I try to remember. And I mess up all the time and call folks by the wrong pronoun. Then I realize, briefly say I am sorry, and we get back to work. But the exchange was an important lesson in and of itself. This is simply about proper respect for people.
David A. Chang, Minneapolis
The writer is a professor in the Departments of History and American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota.
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Many thanks for, perhaps inadvertently, boosting the candidacies of conservatives in Minnesota. The article on the draft policy on pronouns showed why extreme political correctness helped lead to the previously unthinkable election of Donald Trump. One should have empathy for the pain many gender-confused people suffer, but does the world-at-large have to make draconian regulations favoring every divergent group that expects them? In a classic example of the tail wagging the dog, one wonders how many U students are “gender-nonconforming”? New York City legally recognizes 31 distinct gender classifications. These flagrant excesses give many liberals reasons to support conservative candidates.
Dr. Richard Morris, Wayzata
The writer is a retired physician.
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Any new pronoun based on descriptive aspects is unworkable as policy and will not help in our ability to clarify language friendly to all. “Person” is the only word we have so far that works to fill that need. Shortened to “per”? Everyone’s choice. Policy is often overthought in an institution’s press to quantify.
Marcia Willett, Edina
Debates would help. So would answering one’s own questions.
The July 15 commentary by Peter Hutchinson about demanding answers from politicians (“Promises, promises”) was well done and hit on many of the key issues in this year’s campaign: education, environment, health care, governing. One point I would have added is: How? While we expect more than promises from pols, what is the best way to make that happen?
My position is debates. We are inundated by political ads that posit the position of the candidates on the issues (one-way communication, much of it from dark sources), but one-on-one debates tend to strip away much of the gloss.
I would very much like to see debates between Third Congressional District opponents Erik Paulsen and Dean Phillips. While Phillips has been somewhat creative with his van and HQ in Excelsior, I believe that Paulsen, the incumbent, is losing credibility by not being more open in debating the issues with his challenger.
Another race that begs for a debate is the primary contest between Tina Smith and Richard Painter for the U.S. Senate. The parallel between Smith and Hillary Clinton is eerie: endorsed by the party, not clear of her positions and not fully supported by constituents. I struggle getting lined up behind Sen. Smith without an open and honest airing of the issues with challenger Painter.
Competition and transparency are good. Let’s demand open and honest public debates in these races and then for all of the races between the GOP and DFL candidates between August and November.
Derek Roek, Plymouth
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My question: Would Hutchinson answer his own questions? Indeed, it would be a good exercise in civics if everyone tried, then compared their answers to whatever the pol espoused. I suppose that was the point.
Randall Bachman, Afton
Technically, not over
Imagine our surprise when we opened the Star Tribune on July 15 and read “White House declares War on Poverty is over.” You see, every night of the week people of all ages dine at our 27 Loaves and Fishes’ locations — we are the largest open-to-the-public meal program in Minnesota. In all, we serve more than 2,000 healthy and fresh meals every day. And the number isn’t shrinking; it is growing quite rapidly. In 2013, we served a total of 341,000 meals. In 2018, we are poised to serve 1 million meals.
While it is true, and wonderful, that the unemployment rate is low, poverty can and does still exist, even with employment. When a single, working mother needs to keep her three children fed, Loaves and Fishes is there for her. Or when an elderly couple is trying to decide between paying for medicine or eating, Loaves and Fishes makes the decision easier. And, yes, when a middle-aged gentleman is trying to find work, Loaves and Fishes gives him one less worry during his day.
We wish that there were no need for nonprofits like Loaves and Fishes. But that simply isn’t the case. In fact, our organization, and all others doing great work to help those in need, are still not doing enough. We have plans to do more. Any denial of this need is a dismissal of the wonderful people we serve every day — our doors will be open and the plates will be full.
Steve Ripple and Cathy Maes, Minneapolis
The writers are board chair and executive director, respectively, of Loaves and Fishes Minnesota.
To each their own?
Is there a trend to make morality choices a personal decision rather than looking to an external standard for guidance? Are ethical considerations becoming less relevant? Have moral standards slipped in priority such that two candidates were chosen in the last presidential election despite ethical charges swirling around them both?
Any culture requires some level of philosophical consistency and moral and ethical absolutes. Using only personal observations as evidence, I believe a deterioration started with my generation in the self-indulgent and rebellious ’60s. Moral confusion and chaos have gained momentum ever since.
Our previous president added to the confusion in a 2004 interview. When asked what he considers a sin, he stated, “Being out of alignment with my values.” Does that mean he, individually, is the ultimate judge, without reference to theology, tradition or moral absolutes as the basis?
Since personal feelings have become intermingled with moral judgments, it follows that too often a “feel-good” option is chosen. Feelings can often be more persuasive than objective analysis. I believe political correctness is one result.
If someone is asked to make a moral judgment, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised if we hear them respond: “Well, that depends.”
Steve Bakke, Edina
Bad imagery of octopuses
I’m probably not alone in expressing disappointment in seeing dead octopuses hanging on the line like so much laundry in the July 15 Travel section. These are complex, thinking and feeling creatures. Go to any aquarium or read the book “The Soul of an Octopus,” and you may find, as I did, that it’s impossible for you to eat octopus ever again.
I know we all draw our line in the sand on things like this, and for everyone it’s different. Plus, I’d be hypocritical if I didn’t point out that I’m a hunter. I just feel the photo lacked the dignity we should afford the animals we choose to eat.
Susan Horrocks, Stone Lake, Wis.