“Linguistic intervention” is the polite term for coercing students into adopting certain language, phrases and social justice codewords on pain of academic penalty
The Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics continues to capture and subvert our academic institutions, but until now the high priests of social justice have generally contented themselves with shouting down opponents, physically suppressing free speech and socially ostracising those who do not enthusiastically buy into their warped worldview.
That was bad enough. But as nervous university administrations seek to stay one step ahead of their restive student bodies, in some cases they are now going further than the activists and seeking to use their power and authority to enforce new speech codes and language guidelines – rules that do not merely govern personal conduct while on campus, but which impose academic penalties on students who hold the wrong beliefs or use the wrong language in their work.
From the Guardian:
Students at Hull University face losing marks on essays unless they employ “gender-sensitive” language.
Documents obtained under freedom of information legislation show undergraduates at the university have been advised that “language is important and highly symbolic” and informed they should be “aware of the powerful and symbolic nature of language and use gender-sensitive formulations”, while “failure to use gender-sensitive language will impact your mark”.
The document, obtained by the Sunday Times, related to undergraduates on a religious activism course in the university’s school of social science.
The direction follows moves by a number of universities to promote gender-neutral language.
Cardiff Metropolitan University’s code of practice on language has a “gender-neutral term” checklist, giving alternatives for words or phrases, including using “efficient” for “workmanlike” and “supervisor” for “foreman”. Bath University encourages neutral alternatives to “mankind” such as “humanity”, “humans” or “people”.
Two years ago, the University of North Carolina handed out a gender-inclusive language guide, which encouraged students away from using words such as “mailman” , “policeman”, “man-made” and other terms, giving alternative titles or descriptions, such as “postal carrier”.
The Hull University directive is seen as going further, with some critics describing it as “linguistic policing”.
Frank Furedi, the emeritus professor of sociology at Kent University, told the Sunday Times: “Usually such threats are implicit rather than spelt out as in the case of Hull. This linguistic policing is used as a coercive tool to impose a conformist outlook. The alternative is to pay a penalty of being marked down.”
In other words, if you commit a sin such as writing “mankind” rather than “humankind” when submitting an essay at Hull University then you will now be at risk of incurring grade penalties and potentially jeopardising your future. Mastery of the academic principles and subject matter contained within the curriculum are no longer sufficient – now one must also think the “correct” things and use the correct language, unrelated to one’s own subject, in order to maintain an unblemished record.
If you are an English literature student who happens to prefer the cadence and evocations of older language when writing an essay, that’s just tough – every piece of coursework now has to help strike a hammer blow for social justice by drawing from the current leftist lexicon, on pain of penalty.
If you’re a mathematics or engineering geek who deals in empirical data and has little time for the subtleties of the English language, that’s tough too – you’d better learn fast how “words can harm” and ensure that your work meets academic standards while simultaneously avoiding the hair-trigger sensitivities of the most demented leftist professor.
And if you are a conservative religious student who sincerely believes that the new progressive orthodoxies on gender and sexuality are wrong and in conflict with your beliefs, that’s also tough. Now you must continually self-censor, guarding against ever inadvertently expressing what is in your heart, or run the risk that those beliefs might colour your writing, lest a misplaced pronoun or awkward turn of phrase cost you a vital grade.
And all of this shall be done, of course, in the name of creating a safe and inclusive environment for all students and faculty.
We are in new territory here. Most of the social justice outrages covered by this blog have involved cultists enforcing their ideology by either threatening heretics with social stigmatisation or using their power to shout down opponents and bend people to their will. That is bad enough. But this goes to another level – this is a university administration using its power to enforce social justice-compliant language (and thus thinking) among students.
For once, rather than scrambling to keep up with restive campus activists, the university is coming out in front of them, preemptively doing their bidding by forcing every last disinterested student to use the same prissy, stilted language as the most committed social justice zealot.
Fortunately, Hull University’s draconian move has also provoked a measure of dissent within the wider academic ranks:
Prof Judith Baxter, emeritus professor of applied linguistics at Aston University, said: “The principle of gender-neutral language has been around for at least 30 years. Businesses, schools, publishing, academic and educational texts use gender-neutral language now. So there is a total expectation.
“Most universities have just incorporated it in their general way of things. So it is a little bit odd that they have made it regulatory. I just think that is a step too far. Taking this regulatory, punitive attitude to the whole business of gender neutrality is a backward step. What it does is set up resistance. It will make people annoyed, not want to comply, when I think the majority of students would incorporate these sorts of approaches anyway.”
Precisely so. Leaving aside the most extreme linguistic absurdities to emanate from the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics, most people are happy to use respectful terminology in their public interactions, as a matter of basic politeness. To use the threat of academic penalty to coerce adherence to a speech code – the vast majority of which most students are happy to follow anyway – is a massive overreach.
More than that, it is simply wrong. Academic discovery can only take place when people are free to challenge existing orthodoxies, theories and beliefs. Insulating any worldview – especially such a new and untested one as intersectionalism-soaked social justice – from academic enquiry and criticism goes against the core duty of a university. Whether it is theoretical physics or (as in this case) the social sciences, ideas can only be refined, proven or disproven if people are free to question them. Nobody and no theory should be exempt from such criticism.
With this punative, draconian policy, Hull University is essentially teaching their entire student body that some ideas are above criticism, above reproach. They are functioning not as a university but as a social justice madrassa – because, ultimately, the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics is less science, even less objective fact, and far more like a religion.
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