South East Wales

Cardiff Metropolitan Uni bans 'gender stereotype' words

Finger to lips Image copyright Thinkstock

A university has been accused of restricting students' freedom of speech by banning words such as "housewife" and "manpower".

Cardiff Metropolitan University's code of practice on using inclusive language encourages the use of "gender-neutral terms".

Author Dr Joanna Williams said they were "unnecessary" and "authoritarian".

The university said it was committed to "providing an environment where everyone is valued".

The university recognised language "can be a contentious issue" and developed its code of practice to "promote fairness and equality".

It recommended using gender-neutral terms and avoiding generalisations or assumptions based on stereotypes.

The university checklist makes alternative suggestions:

  • Best man for the job - best person for the job
  • Fireman - firefighter
  • Housewife - shopper, consumer, homemaker
  • Manpower - human resources, labour force, staff, personnel, workers
  • Tax man - tax inspector
  • Sportsmanship - fairness, good humour, sense of fair play
  • Gentleman's agreement - unwritten agreement, agreement based on trust

Dr Williams, author of Academic Freedom in an Age of Conformity, told BBC Wales the guidelines were "very authoritarian" and universities "should trust academics to be able to communicate with each other without being permanently offended".

Image copyright Google

She said language changes and evolves and many of the words on the university's checklist were "falling out of fashion".

"If you look at their origins they are not really based on an exclusionary idea," she said.

"The words have come to encompass more than just men. They are more general."

Cardiff Metropolitan University is not the only university said to have freedom of speech restrictions.

Spiked magazine, of which Dr Williams is the education editor, recently published the results of its latest Free Speech University Rankings.

'Promoting fairness'

Of 115 UK universities surveyed, 63.5% were found to "actively censor speech" and 30.5% were found to "stifle speech through excessive regulation".

Dr Williams said universities need to stop restricting freedom of speech and that their codes of practice "demonstrate a shocking lack of trust".

"Schools wouldn't publish such a list for children, yet they are being used for adults," she said.

A spokeswoman for Cardiff Metropolitan University said it makes "an unequivocal commitment to providing an environment where everyone is valued as an individual, and where students and staff can work, learn, flourish and develop their skills and knowledge in an atmosphere of dignity and respect".

She said the code of practice on using inclusive language "sets out a broad approach to promoting fairness and equality through raising awareness about the effects of potentially discriminatory vocabulary".

"It makes suggestions for the avoidance of inappropriate generalisations and provides some illustrative examples of gender-laden vocabulary with some neutral alternatives."

She added complaints about the "excesses of so-called political correctness" and their impact are not new.

"For Cardiff Met, though, academic freedom and the celebration of diversity are cornerstones of university life - and are entirely compatible with each other."

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