University prof: my new pal?

It’s as if my mom suddenly said, “None of this ‘mom’ business. Call me Kathy.”


Some of my professors have started asking the class to call them by their first name. They don’t want to be “professor.” They want to be “Stu” or “Doug.”

But when I e-mail a question to one of those professors, I just can’t bring myself to type, “Hi Dan.” It feels way too familiar. Like I may as well write, “Hey Dan-man, wanna give some tips for assignment number 14?”

Not to mention, it just feels weird. Sort of like if my mom suddenly announced, “None of this ‘mom’ business. Call me Kathy.”

A first-name basis with university professors creates a false sense of equal-ness. “Dan” is an equal. He’s your buddy. Someone you play Xbox with. Someone you can discuss the latest episode of Dexter with. If Dan is being a jerk, you can… well… call him a jerk. Or ignore him. Or sign onto his Xbox profile and change his emblem to a picture of monkey testicles.

But a university professor? They correct your tests. They mark your essays. Or at the very least, they’re in charge of the TA’s that do. They dictate your quality of life for four months. They’re The God of 50 Minutes of Your Life every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Just don’t forget to call them Dan.


University prof: my new pal?

  1. What university and program are you attending?

    With the exception of the odd extremely old, one-dimensional history professor, all of my professors have introduced themselves by their first and last name and have expected their students to refer to them on a first-name basis.

    I think this is becoming more common, especially among younger and part-time contract faculty who have more going on in their lives than just being a professor.

    Their first and last name is their identity and they don’t feel comfortable being called “Professor Soandso” because it’s not the only hat they wear from day to day.

  2. It is also true in the world outside of school that things are changing. I call the manager in my part-time job by her first name. Even the president likes to be called by his first name – and mine is a fairly old and stodgy company. It doesn’t make me feel uncomfortable and it certainly doesn’t make me forget that they have the power to fire me. The change may have come about as the average age of secondary students changed. There are many older students in school now, and it would probably be more difficult for them to refer to a teacher 10 or 20 years their junior as “Professor,” or Mr/Mrs. etc. Likewise, the work-force has changed. Older people may not be the ones in charge anymore. I’m just guessing that this may have something to do with the change.
    Marnie Tunay Fakirs Canada

  3. Dear Mr. Dobson-Mitchell, Using a title and last name when addressing someone is quite simply a sign of respect. In the case of professors,it is an acknowledgement of the success they have attained in the field of academia. I find it sad that many professors desire to relinquish the title, as if to say, my educational successes are insignificant. Similarly, if your mom wanted you to call her by her first name, you may question the gift of parenthood you have given her by being born. Enjoying your blogs, as always. Sincerely, Ms. B.A.Carse

  4. Scott…again with the monkey testicles???? ;-)

    I’ve noticed the first name thing outside of school as well. I know quite a few people that call their doctors by their first name. I think it’s a reflection a society that’s far more “casual” in general than it has been in the past.