07 March 2014

Are You Kidding? There's a Lot in a Name.

Back in January on this blog, I remarked, "ask adjunct faculty how they wish to be addressed by students, and chances are they'll still be talking five minutes later."  Turns out, it's not just adjuncts. The most-commented-on article in yesterday's Inside Higher Ed was about the ethics, politics, and pedagogy of first names in the classroom.

There's nothing I can say about my own practices that hasn't been said in one of the 89 comments on the article. I am, though, having a hard time coming up with any other profession in which forms of address are such a live issue.

What is it about academia that makes us so concerned with what we are called?

College teaching is a profoundly unstable space these days.  Dependence on adjunct teaching is eroding its rigid hierarchies, and respect for the profession has been declining in inverse proportion to the time it takes to get a Ph.D. and the effort required to land a job and tenure.  The issue at the heart of the first-name debate is the issue at the heart of many contentious higher ed conversations: do we cling to the structures of prestige that have traditionally framed our work, or do we bend to the pressures that threaten to transform higher ed beyond recognition?  Every warm body standing in front of a classroom or monitoring the LMS has to be called something, and the collective weight of those names is what we are.

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