Michigan Orders Faculty to Use Student Designated Pronouns Including “They” and “Ze”

university_of_michigan_medical_school_835605The University of Michigan this week have issued a new directive to faculty that they must accommodate students in their preferred pronouns, including “they” and “ze.” Those pronouns will appear on class lists and professors are told to acknowledge any mistaken pronoun use and correct the mistake as “one of the most basic ways to show your respect for their identity and to cultivate an environment that respects all gender identities.” That may not sit well with faculty who have deep-seated objections to the use of pronouns like “they” to refer to a single person as a matter of personal, religious, or intellectual matter.  However, the university added that “If there were a persistent pattern of ignoring a student’s preference, we would address that as a performance matter.”  One student has already registered his protest by changing his pronoun to “His Majesty.”

As we have discussed, other universities have also made this change away from traditional pronouns.  Harvard did so last year.

There is a growing list of different gender identifications. Indeed, I was only informed this week by my high school boys that I am now “cisgender,” or someone whose gender matches their “assigned” sex at birth (ie someone who is not transgender.  There are also transgender (different from their assigned sex at birth); non-binary (a person who identifies as neither male nor female); genderqueer (which appears to be like non-binary); and genderfluid (a person whose gender identity changes over time).

Those new designations have led to an equally elastic list of pronouns.  So at the University of Vermont, students can choose “he,” “she,” “they,” and “ze,” as well as “name only.”  Other options are captures on the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee card given to faculty and students:


The question is whether the faculty have the right to object to such pronoun changes as a matter of personal beliefs.  Clearly the universities view this as a matter of binding and uniform policy for all employees.  For the perspective of the administrators, gender identifications other than the traditional “assigned” genders are recognized in antidiscrimination laws and thus failing to recognize the differences is akin to claiming the right racist speech.  That could lead to some interesting conflicts over personal and academic freedom.  Indeed, it already has occurred in Canada where a professor is refusing to use the new pronouns.


What do you think?

67 thoughts on “Michigan Orders Faculty to Use Student Designated Pronouns Including “They” and “Ze””

  1. “Man”, pronounced as “mahn” in German, means one, a person. English is a Germanic language. The administrats need to learn some linguistics.

  2. This has got to be a joke, right?
    If not, what kind of people with these molly coddled spineless wimpering students going to be as they go into the workforce? When I review resumes and conduct interviews for prospective new hires, I take a pass on the wing nuts.

  3. The left has completely lost its mind. Totally off the rails. Lunatics run schools of all levels.

  4. I graduated from Michigan in the early 1980s, and I remember one philosophy professor’s outrage at the idea that “he” and “man” and “mankind” are not gender-neutral, and that we should find alternatives in academic writing. He spent a good chunk of one class period more or less yelling at us about how stupid the idea was, how “man” and “he” and “his” are what we traditionally used to refer to all people, and that therefore they are neutral. I knew even then that his argument is really dumb. Just say to yourself “Sally is a man.” 🙂 Very few academics use these terms this way anymore. I sense a similar sort of resistance in many of the comments here. Really, it’s no sweat to learn these. Using them shows respect for the other person’s identity, and allows us to describe the world more accurately. Why wouldn’t we want to treat other people with kindness, compassion, and understanding, and why would we not want to be as accurate as possible in our characterizations of the world? It won’t bring about the end of western civilization. As long as it is just a recommendation it’s not a limitation on academic freedom. This is not “mollycoddling” the students — I assume that no matter what the pronoun is, the student still has to do the homework, and gets graded to the same standard. It’s not “conforming” to the students’ feelings in any negative sense — it’s simply showing respect for their identity. It sure is fun to get grumpy about what these young’uns are doing, but many of the comments here sound like the equivalent of the Simpson’s “old man yells at cloud.” 🙂

    1. ” Really, it’s no sweat to learn these. ”

      I think this gets it wrong in an obvious and big way.

      There is an economy in language. At present we have two variations of personal pronouns. Until recently the choice of the variation was indicated visually and instantly by cues such as clothing style, hair style, accessories, make up and other cues that indicate social role.

      Now the proposal is that we adopt several variations, maybe 5 or more, some of which cannot be deduced by well understood gender indicators.

      It seems to me that both the number of variations of pronouns, and the lack of visual cues are major obstacles to wide spread adoption of the new pronouns.

      Just think how many decades it has take us to standardize on terms to replace titles such as chairman.

      I think there is about zero chance that our language adapts to roughly half a dozen variants of pronouns that have to memorized for each person along with their name.

      You can mandate it, you can penalize people for not doing it. But you can’t actually make people do if they find it too cumbersome in ordinary conversation. An that is true regardless of how cranky the objectors are.

      I don’t know how the language will develop. But I will bet anything there are never more than three variants in wide spread or long term use – and I will be surprised to see that many.

      1. BFM, the “Pat” thing, right?? I think of that from time to time during this, because they were always great about Pat not being specifically anything on SNL (Not a huge SNL fan, all the nerds knew SCTV was the top-flight comedy…). Was it ever conclusive what Pat’s gender was, or anything else about… well… that character? Would that character be covered under the new list of pronouns, or might that person find all of those offensive? But isn’t that the liberal quagmire in a nutshell?? “Oh, I know a better way, and I won’t consider why things are now, and the full picture as to how they got here.” It would be interesting to find out if any of the “scholars” who came up with this stuff put half the effort in an analysis that you did above…

        …you can’t please everyone all the time…

        1. Thanks for the Pat reference.

          This whole exercise seems to have a kind of other-worldly lack-of-practicality. If we were to adopt these proposals there would be some we could not address till we had the opportunity for them to introduce themselves by name and pronoun.

          The proposal also seems to turn previous convention on its head. Until recently it was considered respectful and appropriate to address an individual by the gender they sign – if they were in drag it was considered considerate and respectful to address them by the obvious pronoun.

          By this new standard – there are no assumptions that can be counted on for guidance.

          Regardless of what someone signs through dress, grooming or accessories, their preferred identification and pronoun could be different. Under this new standard, you cannot address someone without first directly requesting they identify themselves – or at least their preferred pronoun.

          Who knows what the future holds. But I am betting after a few months this whole enterprise falls by its own clumsy weight.

          1. bfm – I referred to my students collectively as “you guys” and they just had to deal with it.

    2. With so many pronouns to chose from, how can we know which one to use for any individual? Am I to spend the rest of my life searching for the right word and being constantly corrected? No. If anybody used any of these alternative pronouns on me I would be offended. Does that matter? If a teacher has a class of 25 students and they all get to chose their pronouns is that fair to the teacher? And the your comment devolves into ageism. Maybe us older folks have lived enough to recognize stupid when we see it.

      1. William A Broderick – I am too old to deal with this kind of s++t. It is ageism.

      2. I have spent some time commenting on the impracticality of multiple pronouns, especially when the pronouns are not keyed to visual cues.

        But there is another side to this issue.

        The courts might impose any solution they see fit. But why would the courts impose an obligation to use made up words that do not rise to so much as the level of slang or non standard English.

        At some time in the future these made up words, that are now mandated by a few educational institutions, might become recognized a part of the English language. But at this point they have no legitimacy beyond the personal preference of a few academics.

        It is one thing for an individual to demand we call them by their name.

        I would argue that it is a very different proposition to require that we call them by a made up word. In addition for some individuals, for example gender fluid, the chosen made up word may change over time according to mood or experience.

        I think this movement might have a claim at some time in the future, after the languages stabilizes and we reach some common agreement expressed through use of language. At this time, however it seems to me it is an open question whether the spoken languages stabilizes on more pronouns, a single pronoun, or remains the same.

        At this point we might as well be arguing over the cutest puppy. I can hardly imagine a court stepping in the adjudicate that.

  5. #8 of a list of “Ten Questions to Help You Distinguish Propaganda from Truth”

    “Are you expected to trade in reality to prop up somebody’s illusion? One common example is the requirement that you adhere to pronoun protocols, even those that insist you refer to an individual with the plural pronouns they and them. This is a prime example of propaganda messing with your mind by messing with everybody’s language. No common language, no common reality, no communication. People end up even more isolated, unmoored in alternative realities that destabilize a sense of self.”


  6. What do you think?

    This policy is so defective it is practically insane.

    At graduation does the University of Michigan had out straightjackets in lieu of diplomas?

    Where are the mollycoddled university students going to find employment after graduating — Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood and his world of make believe?

    These students are going to be in for a rude awakening and find themselves wholly unprepared when they leave campus for the last time.

    1. Personanongrata – archaeology students in the UK are being told the they might see icky stuff in class and it is alright to leave.

  7. This is political correctness for grammar. Next? Perhaps computer science:

    XOR (Exclusive Or) : Inappropriate due to blatantly exclusionary and discriminatory logic

    >> (Logical Right Shift) : Inappropriate because it forces Binary Genders to Shift to right-wing stereotypes. It also arrogantly forces others to become right-wing haters.

    << (Logical Left Shift) Entirely permissible.

    SizeOf x : returns and reduces people as individuals to numbers targeting body size or weight. This is tantamount to body shaming.

    SizeOf(x) : returns and subjects an entire group/type of people to stereotypical labeling of body size

    #Define <> : Racist and misogynic shaming and stereotyping

    #Include <> : Permissible as it embraces diversity.

  8. This is all a conspiracy by the textbook manufacturers and the LGBT[_] community to have all the world’s English books reprinted and repurchased by educational institutions world wide. I understand the LGBT[_] community is getting 30% of the profits.

    I’m going back to Esperanto. Or Chinese. Or Vietnamese. Or Japanese. All of which do place theoretical limits on the number of personal pronouns. As long as the ridiculous PC movement is alive and well in the US, this folderol could go on forever.

    Come to think of it, my dog deserves a special personal pronoun.

  9. The Addams Family and Thing. Thing was gender neutral even though as a child I always thought it was a male hand. Morticia Addams decades ahead of her time, “mails in”.

    1. George Carlin mentions Einstein’s description of the human being’s stupidity as infinite. What else better than language, the living one that evolves with man, can reflect the stupidity of the user?

      Why do we care so much about naming people but we do not do any effort in learning how to stop killing each other? Because our stupidity is infinite. Einstein was right. We try to respect each other only when we speak with one and other not when we steal other’s resources or his land.

  10. I am beginning to suffer from crisis fatigue. Now people can lose their jobs or get reprimanded at work because of the latest bigoted/racist/homophobic crisis in complex gender pronoun selection.

    People need to go dig a well in Africa or work on the Green Belt Project and get a sense of perspective.

  11. This is getting really confusing. Since I am apparently not in the cool crowd, can someone explain to me what “ze” means? And if they prefer the pronoun “they” for a single person, does that mean they are split personality?

    The trouble is that we are teaching this young generation that the world must conform to their feelings. They are getting an over sensitized limbic system, attaining maximum offense and outrage and distress over feelings rather than intention or fact or intent. If we are all free to take maximum offense regardless of intent, then clearly world peace will not be attained in our lifetime.

    Having such a complicated decision tree card in hand on how to choose an appropriate pronoun is merely going to entangle the flow of conversation. Let’s just do it like they do in the First Order, and call each other by our assigned number, without either name or pronoun unless it is the gender neutral “it.”

    I will continue to use traditional gender pronouns for my animals, however, because the last I heard, horses do not worry overmuch about gender identity.

    1. The trouble is that we are teaching this young generation that the world must conform to their feelings.

      You’ve stated the problem with an elegant economy.

  12. I have always thought that English needed non-genderized pronouns, and have in the past been reduced to referring to someone as him/her.
    I had used hir as a contraction of him and her, that seemed to work, but there wasn’t a good version of he/she, I sometimes used s/he.

    But instead of a nice single version of gender neutral pronouns, now they come out with and enforce, a dozen different version of pronouns that not only dis-distinguish the physical gender, but actually do the opposite and distinguish not only the gender but the self-identified variations of gender.

    So, I am confused, so we have a nice non-gendered version of all the normal pronouns?

    1. How about we just use “it”??? “It” is a pronoun, isn’t “it”??? For example:

      Trigglypuff objected to Milo’s speech, but nonetheless “it” came to the auditorium and “it” took up several seats.

      Would that work???

      Squeeky Fromm
      Girl Reporter

    2. Gary we will have a problem in Industry where certain fittings, plugs, sockets and threads are referred to as male or female. We could go with oppressor (male) and victim(female) -I think victim is demeaning personally- but I already see translation difficulties into Mandarin. This is starting to hurt my brain.

  13. I think the source of this arrogance is the nonfeasance of the trustees and the Michigan legislature. The trustees should meet tomorrow and issue a pink slip to the dean who signed this inane directive, and then hand one to everyone in the chain of command between that dean and the board itself. That will settle it for a generation. Of course, this will never happen. Memo to Michigan legislature: the time for changes in the enabling legislation of this campus and the time for budget cuts is NOW.

  14. This sounds like something from The Onion. Those administrators need to be removed – crippling students and faculty alike.

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