Committee reply

The Freshman English Committee is puzzled by the recent stories in The Northern Star concerning the use of non-sexist guidelines in the Freshman English Program.

This committee is charged with the responsibility for setting policy in English 103, 104 and 105 and for advising teachers of those courses. We wish to offer the following facts to the NIU community:

1. Practically all professional organizations and publications—including the Modern Language Association, the American Psychological Association, the Association of American Publishers, the Associated Press, indeed even NIU’s Journalism Department—promote the use of non-sexist (or non-biased or non-exclusive) language through a formal set of guidelines.

2. The Freshman English Program has promoted guidelines to avoid sexist language in written communication since the early 1980s through its requirement of a handbook of English usage.

The handbook currently required in our program, The Rinehart Handbook for Writers, notes in its advice on usage that, “Today, the use of a masculine pronoun for both men and women is considered sexist language and should be avoided.” All American publishers of English handbooks have for years included similar advice on the use of gender-inclusive language.

3. The Freshman English Committee regularly draws attention to matters of instruction that it considers significant in the teaching of writing, matters like plagiarism, documentation and emphasis of instruction. A set of guidelines on inclusive usage falls well within the usual policy-making responsibilities of the committee.

This semester, the Freshman English Committee has raised the possibility of adopting a formal set of guidelines on non-sexist language in addition to those in our handbook—specifically those established by the National Council of Teachers of English in 1975, 16 years ago.

The NCTE is one of the two national organizations of English faculty, and its “Guidelines for Non-sexist Use of Language” state in part: “The role of education is to make choices available, not to limit opportunities. Censorship removes possibilities; these guidelines extend what is available by offering alternatives to traditional usage and to editorial choices that restrict alternatives to traditional usage and to editorial choices that restrict meaning.”

To assist our deliberations we have given a copy of these guidelines to twenty of the instructors in English 104 this semester and asked them and their students to write a response to them, simply to tell us what they think of them. The guidelines have not been decreed, approved, imposed or required of anyone.

4. This committee has had absolutely no conversation with the Director of Women’s Studies. Furthermore, if or when guidelines on avoiding sexist language are adopted for Freshman English, they will be approved by the faculty who sit on the Freshman English Committee, not by the Director of Freshman English.

No policy regarding the English curriculum will be imposed on the faculty or the students of this department by an administrator, internal or external.

The Freshman English Committee: Karen Abele, Steve Babos, Penny Beverley, Joyce Dvorak, Ellen Franklin, Christine Henderson, Parker Johnson, Jody Ollenquist, Robert Self and Jeanne Weiland.