Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Should Law Students Call Professors By Their First Names?

Shima Baradaran Baughman (Utah), What Should Students Call Professors?:

A decision that many of us make early on (or sometimes change later) in teaching is what to have students call us: “Professor X,” or our first name, or by some sort of nickname. Or this may organically evolve. I’ve gone from being called Professor Baradaran to most often, “Shima” in the last 6 years, but not by choice. I introduce myself every year in class as “Professor Baughman” pronounce it and sign all of my emails “Prof. B”, but still somehow, I am referred to as “Shima” by a large number of students. I understand that I went from one hard to pronounce last name (Baradaran) to another (Baughman) when I got married, but I don’t think that’s the problem here. I’ve spoken to several colleagues and they have experienced frustration with this nonconsensual first-name calling as well. I believe that students call me by my first name because there is a growing movement by professors to allow students to call them by their first name, both in undergrad and in law school.

I wonder what percentage of law professors encourage or allow students to call them by their first name and whether this is a good move. I tend to think that it is not a good development. Here are a couple reasons why: ...

Howard Wasserman (Florida International), More on Names:

Shima sparked a conversation over how prawfs and students should address one another. I want to explore a different issue of student names.

Update:  Wall Street Journal Law Blog, Law Professor to Students: Stop Calling Me by My First Name

Legal Education | Permalink


Would that this be the greatest problem facing legal academia these days!

Posted by: Old Ruster from JD Junkyard | Aug 16, 2016 7:10:32 AM

Must be great to have absolutely no cares in the world... because otherwise why are they wasting time on this (and I guess by extension, why am I?). I mean seriously, its the same as any walk of life. When you introduce yourself, you give your name/how you want to be addressed; if they dont address you as such you just ignore them until they do. Its not really that hard.

Posted by: Michael | Aug 16, 2016 7:43:54 AM

When I went to law school, I was older than more than a few of my professors, and chronologically a peer to some as well. Nevertheless, I erred on the side of calling them "Professor" unless they expressly indicated a different preference.

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Aug 16, 2016 8:53:39 AM

Does Professor Baughman know what many students call their professors behind their backs?

Posted by: Woody | Aug 16, 2016 8:58:54 AM

One person asked (actually, the person closed with an exclamation point, not a question mark, so it was more of a statement than a question) whether this is "the greatest problem facing legal academia these says." Of course it is not, and I feel fairly confident in saying that (uh) Professor Baughman does not believe it is, either. But, it is far from a trivial question. Not only does it matter in terms of how best to create a good teaching and learning environment, but there is also reason sometimes to worry that a student's decision to call a professor by the first name, without prior consent, is a show of disrespect in a passive-aggressive way. For example, does this happen more when the professor is a female than a male? I bet that this is so, although I don't have data to support me.

Posted by: Joshua Dressler | Aug 16, 2016 9:57:01 AM

Professor, its remarkable you could turn this fairly mundane issue into one involving sexism and misogyny allegations. I award you +100 virtue signaling points and today's social justice badge. You are #Woke. Congratulations.

Posted by: Becket | Aug 16, 2016 10:20:55 AM

At least here on the Internet, my thinking is that the term "professor" is an honorific. Ergo, I use it when/if I have respect for the professor in question. Otherwise, it's first or last name. Or just a pronoun.

As for law school, I don't think I ever had the opportunity to address a law professor directly. The few times when one is asked "What is the holding of X v Y" in class, simply answering the question sufficed. Outside of class, the adjuncts who taught useful classes didn't stand on ceremony while the tenured profs (at least the ones I had) were virtually nonexistent on campus when not teaching, so...

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Aug 16, 2016 10:45:42 AM

Get this. I once had a student call me "Sir." It was the weirdest thing, but at least he was done with my class at the end of the semester and would not take any of my other classes. Until he did!! Students and professors may think that using first names is OK, but I'm of the view that first names are for friends and relatives. I am quite friendly, but as for students, I am not their "friend," and there can be no confusion in that regard. I do not grade and critique my friends, at least not with a final exam.

Posted by: Lux | Aug 16, 2016 8:04:12 PM

Like UN, I generally have regarded “professor” as an honorific. This question arises in the U.S. law-teaching arena because lawyers have avoided the use of the “Dr.” title; in other academic areas, most teachers are addressed as “Dr. so-and-so.”

A related, but not earth-shattering phenomenon is how lawyers are addressed around the country. As examples, in Kentucky, most people address lawyers as “the Honorable so-an-so.” In Pennsylvania, they are called “Attorney so-and-so.” In most other places, the honorific “esquire” is frequently used following the last name in written address. I would be interested to hear of other (serious) customs.

Posted by: Publius Novus | Aug 17, 2016 7:02:30 AM

I had the same thoughts as Joshua Dressler when I read this. Wonder if we can determine how many male professors and how many female professors this is happening to? And addressing a professor as Professor is a term of respect due to his or her position, same as calling a judge "Judge" or "the Honorable." Students don't get to determine how they address the professor, the professors do.

Posted by: Camille | Aug 17, 2016 9:46:56 AM