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Professor at Catholic university docks grades for ‘exclusive language’ on gender

‘Wording excludes a group that makes up half the population’

Students in a theology course at a Catholic university were forced to redo an assignment after the professor took off points for “exclusive language,” one of the students told The College Fix.

He said he “got points taken off an essay assignment” because the professor told him he used “exclusive language,” the student wrote in a series of text messages Wednesday.

“World of Grace” is taught by a part-time professor at John Carroll University, David Buhrow. It explores “the Christian vision of the entire world as grace-filled, resonant with the Holy,” according to the course description in the syllabus provided by the student. (The Fix is not naming him because the class is still going.)

Buhrow required his students to complete an essay assignment where they would each write their own “Credo.” The professor misattributed a quote from Socrates on the assignment rubric, saying it was from Aristotle.

From the Latin word for “I believe,” a credo in the Catholic tradition is a profession of faith that says “I pledge myself to what we believe,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

In addition to the “Credo” assignment, Buhrow also assigned students an essay on their “vocation” or “life calling.”

The assignment rubric said that the vocation essay should build on the “Credo” assignment and “explore the question of how your life-calling will enact this fundamental worldview.”

But when students submitted their “Credo” essays, they found that Buhrow had docked points due to the use of “exclusive language,” according to the student who spoke with The Fix.

He said it was a “class-wide problem.” Referring to his own essay, the student said Buhrow “took a massive amount of points off because I used words like ‘mankind’ or simply ‘man’ to refer to the human race.”

Buhrow justified the grade hit by saying that the “wording excludes a group that makes up half the population,” the student alleged. He added that students were allowed to redo the “Credo” essay for partial credit if they removed the gendered language.

But that wasn’t Buhrow’s only peeve with “exclusive language.”

On the vocation assignment, students saw Buhrow cross out any use of the pronoun “he” in reference to God, “because God is genderless,” according to the student.

Buhrow told the entire class that God should only be referenced as “God” or “Godself” instead of “himself” or “he,” the student said. The professor did not take any points off the second essay for the use of the pronoun he, “because almost everybody made the same ‘mistake.’”

Buhrow did not respond to an email from The Fix, and John Carroll’s listed phone number for the professor was disconnected. The university’s media relations department did not respond to a voicemail message.

The Fix consulted a theologian at Franciscan University of Steubenville, another Catholic institution, for his analysis of Buhrow’s grading notes.

Stephen Hildebrand wrote in an email that “the argument over whether we should use inclusive or exclusive language is often really not about language or just about language, but about deeper theological issues.”

Hildebrand, who chairs the theology department, said that “no one who uses ‘He’ and ‘Him’ of God believes that God is male. Rather, behind the use of this language is a certain view of revelation, a belief in the inspiration of Scripture, and a wish to conform oneself to the language that Scripture uses.”

Jesus Christ looked at God as his father, “the way in which he revealed God to us,” Hildebrand continued. “It seems clear enough that ‘Father’ as used in Scripture is not just a metaphor alongside other Scriptural metaphors.”

MORE: John Carroll student called into Title IX meeting for criticizing drag show

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About the Author
Jeremiah Poff -- Franciscan University of Steubenville