title etiquette

I’m feeling awkward about names & titles today and thought I’d see what the scatterbrains think. In my department we train grad students to call us by first names, a custom I am very comfortable with, and I am part of a cultural group* in which children call adults by first names (although, of course, they call their teachers Mr/Ms X). When I was first teaching in the 1970s, I told my students to call me by my first name, but I stopped because the students would say things to me of the form “Hey Susie, can you tell me where Dr. X is?” All the men were Dr. X and I was the only first name. The disparity has died down, but you can still find formal documents like minutes of meetings in which women professors are referred to by first name and men professors by surnames. So I tend avoid telling undergrads what to call me and let them default to professor or doctor. As I get to know a student in a more personal way, I tend to encourage the switch to first name. Unfortunately, more and more young people have been raised like mine to assume first names, and I’ve heard that some orientation groups are actually telling incoming freshmen to call professors by first names. I realize this actually offends me. I’d rather offer the first name than have it assumed. Hmmm. Quite a bit of inconsistency there. I got caught off guard in the honors class the other day when a student asked me what he should call me, and I kind of mumbled and stumbled and ended up choosing professor. Although then I wondered later whether I should have picked first name, since this is a small class and I’ve invited students to my home for dinner.

So scatterbrains of various generations and cultural backgrounds: what do you think about all this name stuff? As you answer, it would be helpful to disclose your gender, approximate age and status as student or prof.

* I am very aware that people are reared differently on this point, that some parents rear their children to address all older people by title no matter what. That was actually how I was raised long ago – not allowed to call older people by first name, even if they suggested it, and I have met young people who are extremely uncomfortable using first names for older people. This is very much a class thing, I believe.

ask a scatterbrain: externals for tenure

External tenure letters are a vitally important part of the tenure process and therefore a source of anxiety for the applying faculty member. Many institutions give the applicant for tenure some role in constructing the list of people who are asked to write letters. If you are in a position to construct a list of people in your field, is it acceptable to send a note to ask them if they are willing to be on this list, or is that considered an unethical attempt to game the system? Or, as I suspect, is it officially considered unethical but in real life done regularly?


I’m impressed by the strategy of a blog called White Readers Meet Black Authors by Carleen Brice. The idea of the blog is given by its title, to encourage White readers to explore books (mostly fiction) written by Black writers, with an emphasis on what are sometimes called “mid list” writers, not the folks on the bestseller lists.  The problem the blog addresses is the segregation of books into sections of what are now called  “brick and mortar” book stores, an issue I hadn’t really thought much about until recently.* Any given book can be in only one section. It’s either romance or sci fi, but not both. People trying to sell books to publishers have to tell them what bookstore section to put them in: this is a major structural part of how the business works.

African American readers like to be able to find books by African Americans that feature African American characters. So having a special “African American” section helps to sell books to African Americans. But at the same time, having one’s book in the “African American” section hurts sales to Whites. So the site is trying for outreach, profiling books and authors who write in a variety of genres, including science fiction, adventure, mystery, fantasy, “chick lit,” romance. I’ve gotten brave myself and tried a few new authors, including Brice’s own Orange Mint and Honey, which I enjoyed quite a bit.

Sociologically, the only way to integrate is to cross boundaries. The usual assumption is that the role of Whites is to welcome minorities into “our” spaces. There’s lots of research that shows that most White people are uncomfortable moving into a space dominated by other groups. I’m just impressed by a strategy of friendly outreach trying to overcome that discomfort, and feel like it is an effort I want to support.

*On-line bookstores don’t have this constraint, and the significance of that is another issue.

the twenty page limit

In the comments to this post, somebody writes the following about the American Sociological Associations 20-page limit for conference papers:

Why have a page limit at all? … That would spare us the annual routine of stretching margins, squishing tables to the point of illegibility, and cutting huge chunks out of the reference section (a new trick I learned this year) in order to squeeze under this arbitrary limbo pole.

Sociology confession: Continue reading “the twenty page limit”