A comment on ScienceWoman’s post (concerning, among other things, how her students tend to call her Mrs. ScienceWoman and her male colleagues Dr. MaleColleague), got me thinking about the norms around addressing faculty that prevailed at my undergraduate institution and whether, if they still prevail, they’re worth abolishing.
The commenter wrote:
No one I know (just graduated college) would ever dare address a professor by Mr. or Mrs…. As far as I’m concerned, those titles are related to marital status–which has nothing to do with education or as a sign of respect… Addressing a female professor as “Mrs” to me means that you think her primary “claim to fame” is that she’s married. No! As a student, you care about the fact that she has an advanced education and has lots to teach you: hence Dr. or Professor.
The convention at my undergraduate institution (reinforced by how the instructors were listed in the course catalog) was to refer to the faculty members as Mr. Lastname, or Ms. Lastname, or Miss Lastname, or Mrs. Lastname. (I assume that female faculty members were given the choice of all three salutations regardless of marital status or history.)
No one addressed a faculty member as Dr. Lastname or Prof. Lastname. It just was not the prevailing convention.
I do not know where this convention came from, although it had clearly been the way of things for a long, long time by the time I entered college. Perhaps the idea was to play down “credentialism”; some very gifted teachers might have a masters degree rather than a Ph.D., and in some fields the terminal degree is a masters degree. If we had any question about the degrees the people teaching us had earned, it was easy enough to flip to the back of the course catalog to find out.
If such mode of address is well-established at a college (rather than applied differentially depending on the gender of the faculty member being addressed), do you think it’s problematic?