Ze news from Oregon

Amritas links to a story about six University of Oregon math and English classes that reserve the first 10 of 18 slots for non-white students. From the Daily Emerald:

The OMAS (Office of Multicultural Academic Support) pays for and controls three lower-division math and three lower-division English classes that allow fewer enrolled students and provide more individualized instructor attention. While other sections of Math 242 and Math 243 this term have an average of 115 students for lectures, 29 students for discussions and 35 students for integrated classes, the OMAS classes had a maximum of 18 students. The general Writing 121 and Writing 122 sections had an average of 25 students per class, and the OMAS sections were again restricted to 18 students.

Linda Liu, advising coordinator and academic adviser for OMAS, said the classes are meant to offer a safe haven for minority students and give struggling students a chance to work more closely with professors.

Sounds nice. But the criteria for preferred entry isn’t need; it’s race.

Amritas links to another Daily Emerald story on the use of “ze” and “hir” as gender-neutral pronouns.

A great controversy has emerged recently in campus publications over the use of the gender neutral pronoun set ze/hir. This has manifested mainly in the Emerald’s obstinate refusal to use ze/hir and the Oregon Commentator’s outright hostility toward any sort of variance from a strict ideology of gender binaries . . .

For those who are not familiar with ze/hir, it is used rather than she/her or he/him/his for some people who identify outside of a man/woman dichotomy. Like he and she, ze has several forms that are not particularly easy for the average person to classify grammatically (he, she, ze; his, her, hir; him, her, hir; his, hers, hirs; himself, herself, hirself), but anyone who can use she and he is capable of integrating ze. Listening to individuals who respect self-identification and pronoun preference makes this quite clear, as they form sentences like “ze knows that’s hir job,” “that book is hirs,” and so on. There is a pattern that is consistent and easy to produce.

Zis is funny (peculiar not hir hir).

About Joanne


  1. Jennifer says:

    There was a lot about the U of O that I really loved. But, I must admit that when I graduated and joined the real world, I really felt like I was getting out of the looney bin and being “mainstreamed.” It’s absolutely amazing how insular college campuses can get.

  2. LibraryGryffon says:

    If I heard “ze” being used, I’d probably assume that the speaker had some unfortunate speech impediment.

    And how are you supposed to tell the spoken difference between “her” and “hir”?

    Seems even more idiotic than the word “womyn”.

    I don’t think I’ll be letting my children attend college in Oregon.

  3. “Ze” is generally the phonetic spelling an author uses for “the” when they are trying to convey that the speaker has either a French or German accent. Those of us who read a lot of cheap pulpy mysteries will only be confused with “ze” substituted for “he” or “she.”

    I think some years ago someone proposed “heesh” as an alternative. Don’t like that any better.

    I don’t even know why we NEED this. I can hear the word “he” used in the general term and understand that it applies to all humans regardless of gender. Likewise with “him.” Our language is already being tinkered with too much.

    As for the “reserved slots for non-whites” – what happens if the class doesn’t “make”? Where I teach, you need to have at least 10 students for a class to go – it seems a bit counterproductive to bar certain students from signing up until a quota has been met.

    And it makes no sense, anyway. I could see having a “special” section for people who are admitted math-phobes, or for people who had little high school math, or for people needing to repeat the class, but as far as I know, ability and comfort with working with math knows no color…

  4. Daria B. says:

    I bet all of the students at U of O do really well in the Romance Languages, where NOTHING is gender neutral. Do they get to make up words there too? End everything in a non-gender-specific vowel? Make up new letters that don’t potentially resemble body parts?

    This reminds me of a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon, where Calvin complains that he doesn’t know the gender of things in English. Calvin just wants to drive his teacher bananas. Is that all these students strive to do? Perhaps the students should master English before they try to recreate it.

    Why are they speaking English anyway? Shouldn’t they have some other language that was never spoken by evil white men???

    Again, to quote Calvin (and Bill Watterson) in the same comic strip:
    No wonder we can’t compete in a global market.

  5. KimJ721 says:

    Reminds me of the Spivak pronouns that my fellow mathematician geek-friends talk about (but never actually use) from time to time.

  6. Sigivald says:

    Library: Just make sure your kid doesn’t go to U of O and it’ll be fine (and even UO is fine, if you don’t mind telling the granola contingent to Go To Hell).

    OSU is far less stupid about such things, PSU doesn’t care at all, and UP is a Catholic university, fer Chrissakes.

  7. Cardinal Fang says:

    English already has a gender-neutral pronoun. It’s the singular they/them/their.

    Ignorant pedants decry its use, but it’s been used by educated writers for hundreds of years. Here are some examples from my favorite author, Jane Austen.

  8. Jennifer says:


    Before you rush to judge ALL students at the U of O, you may want to read what Joanne posted. Of the two major campus publications, one vociferously opposes this nonsense. The contingent that supports this type of thing is small but vocal. Most of us were going about our business, earning our degrees.

  9. This whole ze/hir thing just confuses me. The transgendered persons I’ve known want to be referred to by the pronoun associated with the sex they identify with, not some artificial construct that continually implicates their sexual identification as unnatural.

    What is especially ironic is that the linguistics major who wrote this essay ignores the fact that her argument for why he/hir should be acceptable–the fact that English speakers have instinctively recognized the need for a gender-neutral pronoun (though she doesn’t acknowledge that this is generally in hypothetical situations)–is the same argument for why prescriptive pronouns such as these don’t work.

  10. Walter E. Wallis says:

    I suppose if 10 minorities don’t want the class we just tell them they have no choice? Perhaps paint the doors a different color? Perhaps a separate door just for them? Separate plumbing fixtures?
    But wait – that’s how it used to be. Silly me, why would anyone want to go back to those times?