chair vs. chairman

Anita Vasavada vasavada at
Mon Oct 15 03:51:53 EST 2001

Women-in-bio newsgroup:

I would like to get your opinions on the general acceptance of the words
“chair” vs. “chairman” (for the head of a department or program).  I
personally find the word “chairman” irritating—why the need to point out
that the chairman is a man?—and feel “chair” is much more appropriate.
My institution always uses the gender-neutral term chair.  But
occasionally I get mail from one of my previous institutions, or a
national professional organization, that has a “message from the
chairman”, or a list of chairmen of a specific type of academic program
(some of whom happen to be women).

I am often tempted to write in to these organizations and point this
out.  However I wonder:  Am I over-reacting?  Is the word “chairman”
generally accepted to mean both men and women?  Should I avoid making a
fuss over a minor issue and pick different battles to fight (especially
if it means irritating a “big shot” in the field)?

I’d love to hear your opinions—it will help me decide whether to bring
up these issues.

Anita Vasavada

Anita Vasavada, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Departments of Biological Systems Engineering and VCAPP
Washington State University
Pullman, WA  99164-6120
voice:  (509) 335-7533
fax:  (509) 335-4650
vasavada at

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