Although most readers of this blog seem to be on the young side (of me), perhaps there are some faculty readers who can relate to this dilemma that some colleagues and I were discussing recently. And perhaps others have an opinion about the topic.
Some of us have NAMES in front of our professorial titles. Some of these NAMES are related to a permanent endowed chair, some to a temporary (folding) chair, and some to an award. My colleagues and I were discussing how we feel about these NAMES, and when we use these NAMES and when we don't.
Range of feelings about getting a NAME or NAMES in front of your title: happy, proud, apathetic, a bit embarrassed, some of each of those.
When are the NAMES used? Some of my colleagues always use the NAME in front of their title, perhaps because they like their title and/or because they feel they should honor the person or family for whom their professorship or chair is named and/or because they have no interest in spending any time wondering whether there are good times to use it and not-good times to use it; that's just their title and they use it.
Some only whip out the NAME when it seems expedient to do so. And that leads us to the question: When is it expedient to do so?
Some of my colleagues find that the NAME can be very useful when corresponding with administrators at our own university or with other professors we don't know but who might help us with something. The rest of the world might not be impressed by the title of Miffy X. Zongleswack Professor of Science, but people at your own school might be suitably awed. This is a self-serving but convenient example of when we might use the NAME.
The NAME is almost always used when signing a letter of reference. Being a NAMED professor might add a bit of prestige to the letter, even if it is a bit cynical to believe so. Some might be inclined to drop the NAME in ordinary correspondence, in the interests of being more informal and possibly less pretentious, but the NAME is definitely used when it helps someone to do so. This is an altruistic example of name-dropping.
One bizarre exception to this general rule about signing reference letters was in the rare circumstance in which the name in the title was the same as the last name of the student for whom the letter of reference was being composed. This was a complete coincidence -- one that entertained student and professor while working together -- but the professor feared that the coincidence of names might make the letter seem less objective. It is unlikely that the student was harmed by the fact that the (very positive) letter was signed simply by a Professor, sans NAMES.
There seem to be a wider variety of views on whether to use the NAME when corresponding with students. Do students think it is cool that a professor with an additional title is teaching their class, or do they think we might be more scary and unapproachable?
One colleague uses her full title in the first e-mail message to a student or a class, in the hopes that this will result in replies consisting of complete sentences, and then goes into more informal mode after that.
During this recent conversation among colleagues, we wondered: What, if anything, do students think about these extra titles? Do the titles, if they are even noticed, inspire respect, fear, apathy, curiosity, contempt..? All of the above? Or is having a NAMED title just another strange thing about some professors, indistinguishable from all the other strange things about professors?
No, this is not a topic about which professors obsess (too much). It's just one of those random little academic things that come up in conversation from time to time, and I thought I'd muse about it here and see if readers could provide an answer to the question posed above about perceptions of these NAMES. And most of us will not be crushed or even dismayed if no one is impressed with our long titles.
10 years ago