University of Leipzig resolves to refer to all of their professors as “Professorin”

The University Council of the University of Leipzig has just announced a resolution to start
referring to all of their professors (regardless of gender) as “Professorin”, i.e. the (grammatically) feminine version of the title.

Here’s the story in Der Spiegel:
http://www.spiegel.de/unispiegel/wunderbar/gleichberechtigung-uni-leipzig-nutzt-weibliche-bezeichnungen-a-903530.html.

Google doesn’t turn up any English-language articles on the story yet. Let us know if you see one.

Thanks TB and BTPS (Buffy the Patriarchy Slayer)!

8 thoughts on “University of Leipzig resolves to refer to all of their professors as “Professorin”

  1. http://www.thelocal.de/education/20130605-50095.html

    This part is interesting:
    “Physics professor Dr Josef Käs suggested the change as a joke because he was becoming weary of extended discussions about gendered language.
    To his surprise, the university board voted in favour of the idea. The university’s president Beate Schücking approved the changes in early May and they are due to come into effect in the coming months.”

    On totally different subject, I’m interested in why the comments on all the McGinn posts are closed. I think the discussion here is usually pretty good, and I thought the discussion on the first post was productive before comments were closed. Maybe moderation could alleviate whatever concerns motivated the decision to close the comments?

  2. Hey AnonGrad–the volume and nature of the comments (or, the nature of some, I should say) we were getting were such that we needed to very closely moderate in order to not let the discussion turn in a problematic direction. A bunch of us have been/are travelling, and since we just couldn’t moderate the way we’d need to, we decided to close them for now.

  3. Now this is really sexist. Whole the term Professor is gramatically not marked and can refer to women and men (but there also is no male marked form used, which would be something like “Professorich”) the “-in” Ending refers to women alone.I don’t get how this shoud be a good thing while on the other hand we are sensitive about 3rd genders and not labeling anybody with a gender the very person does not feel belonging to.

  4. This is a difficult problem. It’s true that ‘Professor’ is not marked in a grammatical sense (in English), but ‘-or’ is clearly a masculine suffix in most European languages (both Germanic and Latin). So in a sense the word carries a sexist baggage. Most nouns that refer to jobs do. This may be less evident in English, because nouns that aren’t proper nouns don’t have a gender, but still. Perhaps we need new, neutral suffixes for all those sorts of words. Or we could eliminate the suffixes altogether (“Profess of philosophy”?). But I’m not sure what sort of coordination effort would be needed to achieve an outcome of that sort.

  5. News just in: the decision is much less radical and interesting than first reported. (In German, see: http://www.lvz-online.de/leipzig/bildung/kein-herr-professorin–universitaet-leipzig-stellt-missverstaendnis-klar/r-bildung-a-192022.html) Leipzig Uni has issued a statement clarifying the misunderstanding that was first reported in German media: adopting the feminine ‘Professorin’ to denote all professors only pertains to one document, the Grundordnung of the Uni. (This is like the constitution or by-laws of the Uni.) It is not, however, expected to make any difference to everyday language use at the Uni and was not apparently put forward with that intention. The intention was to avoid having to write the lengthy ‘Professor/ Professorin’ and ‘Mitarbeiter/ Mitarbeiterin’ (male and female versions of employee) every time employees were referred to in the document. And given that female employees are in the majority at Leipzig Uni, they decided to go with the generic female. The upshot is NOT that male profs will be called ‘Professorin’ in the future.

  6. I wonder if this has any legal consequences. Because Professorin definately means female Professors in the German langage, it could be asked whether the Grundordnung would not apply to male Professors. I wonder if courts would follow this making up of a private language in any case…

  7. @ Benny (#6), that’s easy. You just include a sentence in the beginning of the by-laws clarifying that the female form refers to both or all genders equally and has only been chosen for linguistic simplicity. Happens all the time. No need for any court to get involved.

  8. It should be noted that in German, this problem only arises when referring to an unnamed professor or to a group of professors. As soon as you address someone or speak about someone specific, you add the gender by calling the lady “Frau Professor X” or “Frau Professorin X” (although most female professors seem to prefer the former) and the guy “Herr Professor X”. It’s the same with “Dr.”: Although you could say “Doktorin” instead of “Doktor”, you mark the gender again by calling a female with a PhD “Frau Doktor X”. (And yes, you have to mention that each time you address someone, or they will get pissed off.)

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