Pepperdine University has chosen to replace “freshman” with “first year.” I presume that the inclusion of “man” in freshman offends some. But why? Do schools make such changes based on serious deliberation grounded in historical developments, etymological roots, reflections about consequences not anticipated by a presentist “common-sense”? Forgive the faux innocence of my question, but I’m struck by how thoroughly universities have largely given up any sense that they should serve as repositories of tradition, of heritage, of inherited wisdom, replaced by an embarrassingly old-fashioned and moralizing (and hence not morally serious) crusade to be institutions of social transformation.

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Ted V. McAllister
Ted McAllister is a native of Oklahoma, now living in Moorpark, California with his wife, Dena, and his two children, Elisa and Luke. He yearns for his own chunk of land and for those bits of nature that please him, but not for farming or for unnecessary drudgery of the sort that involves physical labor.  He is an aesthetic agrarian, not a practicing one. Educated as an Intellectual and Cultural Historian at Vanderbilt University, he now teaches at Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy where he pursues with his students the enduring questions rather than the particular answers.  His book, Revolt Against Modernity:  Leo Strauss, Eric Voegelin, and the Search for a Post-Liberal Order launched him into the study of political philosophy, though his epistemological orientation is much shaped by his training as a historian.  Working presently on Walter Lippmann as well as a US History textbook, he expects soon to write a multi-volume history of the Baby-boomers.


  1. This has an easy answer. Clearly the Straussians at Pepperdine are engaging in a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses with the Straussians at my alma mater, University of Chicago, where we have always forgone the usual annual appellations for the numeric monikers First Year, Second Year, etc.

  2. Well, as someone who was there when the choice was “freshman” vs. “co-ed” let me observe that universities should probably not strive to be crypts of tendentious, if not toxic, traditions like sexism. Being the repository of tradition does not mean being its victim. What have you lost, after all, by replacing the term “freshman” with “first year” other than the false assumption that a college/university education is normative for men and not for women? Perhaps the university’s highest calling is to test constantly cultural assumptions of normative values. Unless you think education for women is presentist common-sense. What’s the inherited wisdom you’re trying to preserve in the case you cite?

  3. In fairness, the freshman, sophomore, junior, senior system isn’t used everywhere. The military academies, for example, go with the 4th to 1st system. So too law schools. Nothing wrong with this change.

  4. In the spirit of Burke, I would like to hear a compelling justification for the goodness of the change, and I’m dubious that Pepperdine has one. That said, I don’t think there’s anything un-traditional about First Year per se. If I understand correctly, the English university system denotes the status of its undergraduates by year.

  5. From “Hustle and Flow” (Here’s where to stick accusations of “sexism”):

    …man ain’t like a dog.
    And when I say “man,”
    I’m talking about man
    as in mankind, not man as in men.
    Because men,
    well, we a lot like a dog.
    You know, we like to piss on things.
    Sniff a bitch when we can . . .
    We territorial as shit, you know,
    we gonna protect our own.
    But man…
    …he know about death.

  6. “I’m talking about man
    as in mankind, not man as in men.’

    Well then lets call first years “ladies” and reassure the men that it’s just a generic term. Cross your legs, honey when you tell folks were “stick” things.

  7. I’m fine with the universities changing the term used for first year students; I just wish they still had some sense of the meaning of the word ‘university’.

  8. “First year” is an English term, so those with fake Oxford accents should like it. “Freshmeat” is a more generic term and should have some significance for those who have been around “higher education” for a long time. In athletic terms we have “true freshman,” redshirt freshman,” “fifth year seniors,” and other euphemisms. Maybe Pepperdine should do a really progressive thing and call entering students “future leaders.” That would probably help their self-esteem.

  9. Pudentilla, thy name is “Orshi.”

    We could call freshmen “ladies” if mankind were called “ladykind.” But, of course, it’s not — merely because the common but not universal linguistic practice of using the masculine form of the word as the generic and plural inclusive did not develop that way.

    There are, of course, languages that do not use the masculine form to include women. Such homes of “enlightened” equality as China and the Arab world have the sort of perfect “gender neutrality” in their languages that the most radicalized and hissy-fit prone feminist would approve. Ergo, one questions whether there could possibly be any meaningful correspondence between the use of pronouns, etc., and the condition of women.

    To be clear, I am not arguing that women should be treated “equally” much less that they are in the U.S. or anywhere. Any flourishing society will have and embrace the kinds of sex differences that spring up naturally anyway. But this is beside the point of the argument.

    The argument here, from my perspective, centers on the way in which “gender neutrality” is a fool’s errand (one among many) of political correctness. Further, it results in ugly and often barbaric contortions of the English language.

    Happily, “first year” is one of the less egregious such aesthetic goose eggs. That said, I shall never be caught addressing my freshmen classes thus: “Hey, you first-year students who just happen to be male or female (save those of you still making up your mind, and saving up for new clothes) . . .”

  10. It seems, Dr. McAllister, that you miss the mark when you assume that the term “freshman” was changed to “first-year” to satisfy a desire by some to be more PC with the hopes of not offending the other gender. It is simply a way for universities to distinguish between those students who are in their first year at college and those who, while freshman, may be have been on campus more than one year. The purpose of this distinction, as far as I can tell, is for appropriate marketing of classes and activities on campus. Those pesky capatilists that are at the heart and soul of universities such as Pepperdine have long forgotten that higher education institutions should serve as”repositories of tradition, of heritage, of inherited wisdom.”

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