Profs blast Purdue for taking control of writing guide

Following criticism of a handout advising students to avoid "words with masculine markers," Purdue decided to create an advisory board to oversee the publication, which faculty members equated to dictating "educational content."

The College of Liberal Arts Faculty Senate at Purdue University voted unanimously this week to approve a statement condemning the university's handling of a recent controversy involving its Online Writing Lab.

Faculty members at Purdue University are blasting the administration for “yielding to pressure from donors or outside media groups” by imposing oversight on the Purdue Online Writing Lab.

The OWL came under scrutiny in February after Campus Reform reported on its “Stereotypes and Biased Language” handout, which instructed students that “the generic use of MAN and other words with masculine markers should be avoided.”

After the story gained national attention, with some outlets erroneously describing the admonition as a “ban on man,” Provost Jay Akridge announced that editorial control of the OWL would be handed over to an advisory board working in conjunction with the dean of the College of Liberal Arts.

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According to the Journal & Courier, the Purdue College of Liberal Arts (CLA) Senate voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve a statement condemning the university’s handling of the matter, saying its members are “unequivocally opposed” to such administrative oversight and that faculty members should have complete control over “educational content” such as the OWL.

“The CLA Senate declares that only CLA faculty members have the right to make decisions about educational content in the College of Liberal Arts,” the statement asserts. “It is unequivocally opposed to educational policies or content in the College being dictated by administrators yielding to pressure from donors or outside media groups, whether conservative or liberal.”

Additionally, the Educational Policy Committee of the CLA Senate applauded the original writing guide for “advising writers to avoid outmoded sexist terminology and embrace gender-neutral language wherever specificity of language is desirable and conducive to effective communication.”

Paul Draper, the chairman of the CLA Senate Educational Policy Committee, confirmed to the Journal & Courier that the resolution was a direct response to the administration’s handling of the OWL controversy.

“One of the most fundamental of all educational policies is that faculty are in charge of the curriculum,” Draper argued. “When it comes to curricular matters, the role of administrators is to facilitate, not to lead, and certainly not to dictate.”

[RELATED: Purdue quietly revises ‘biased language’ writing guide]

CLA Dean David Reingold, however, pointed out that similar advisory boards are widely-used to to oversee style guides, not only elsewhere in academia, but also in the professional world.

Purdue President Mitch Daniels likewise endorsed the advisory board idea, describing it as a silver lining to the controversy.

“The media reports did serve one useful purpose,” stated Daniels.“They helped us realize that the website, developed over 20 years ago, has not had the level of supervision something this prominent should have.”                                    

Campus Reform reached out to Purdue University for comment, but did not receive a response.

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