The University of Cincinnati has reversed its formal reprimand of a professor who failed a student’s paper because it included the phrase “biological woman.”
Melanie Nipper, a 28-year-old adjunct professor, received the formal reprimand on June 14 after she gave the student, Olivia Krolczyk, a zero on a final project proposal for a Gender in Popular Culture class in May. Krolczyk’s project proposal discussed men who identify as females competing in women’s sports.
Nipper told her the words biological women are exclusionary and are not allowed in the gender class “as they further reinforce heteronormativity.”
“Please reassess your topic and edit it to focus on women’s rights (not just ‘females’) and I’ll regrade,” she said.
Nipper was ordered to complete training, and submit her syllabi for the coming school year to her department head. “You are reminded that as an unrepresented, unclassified ‘at will’ employee your employment may be terminated with or without cause,” the formal reprimand letter said.
Nipper defended her actions to the university.
“I felt it was necessary to educate her regarding inclusive language to ensure a safe learning environment for other students in the course discussion boards,” she said. She also defended her marking to The Cincinnati Enquirer.
“My support of free speech ends when you are, intentionally or unintentionally, participating in a systemic harm of some kind,”—including statements she deems transphobic or racist.
Nipper filed an appeal with the university, which later decided that its reprimand had been “issued in error.”
The reprimand will be removed from Nipper’s personal file, according to an email from the College of Arts and Sciences Dean Margaret Hanson. However, Nipper is still required to undergo training on the university’s free speech policy and submit her course syllabus to the department head.
Krolczyk, the student, shared her disappointment with the university’s decision on TikTok, Twitter and in a statement.
“UC is affirming that professors will have no consequences for failing students with dissenting opinions,” the statement said. “They will not uphold a student’s rights to free speech, and will take no action to ensure that the educators hired are acting in a professional manner. At what point is the line drawn?
“Congrats to the University of Cincinnati for contributing to the erasure of women and for letting future students know that they must conform to certain ideologies or else they will be punished.”
In contesting her reprimand, Nipper had argued that failing the student did not violate UC’s free speech policy.
Nipper said the controversy has taken an immense emotional and psychological toll on her. In an email to The Enquirer, she said she had received move than 300 hate emails and angry phone calls due to the incident. She said her situation showcases “the very real harm and threat people can pose when their worldview is informed by white supremacy, cisheteronormativity, classism, patriarchy and more.”
Krolczyk, whose original TikTok about the incident has been viewed more than a million times, tweeted on July 6: “It is not transphobic to say that men do not belong in women’s sports. It is not harmful in any way to say ‘biological woman.’ This situation showcases the very real threat that professors with extreme ideologies can pose to students. This situation also showcases the unfortunate reality and direction that society is heading towards.”