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ONCAMPUS

ByMollyWorthen

May13,2017

ChapelHill,N.C.—Atthestartofmyteachingcareer,whenIwasfreshoutofgraduateschool,Ibrieflyconsideredtryingtopassmyselfoffasacoolprofessor.Luckily,Isooncametomysensesandembracedmytrueidentityasayoungfogey.

Afteronetoomanystudentscalledmebymyfirstnameandsentmeemailthatresembledadrunkenlate-nightFacebookpost,Itookaveryfogeyishstep.Ibeganattachingapageonetiquettetoeverysyllabus:basicrulesforhowtoaddressteachersandwritepolite,grammaticallycorrectemails.

Overthepastdecadeortwo,collegestudentshavebecomefarmorecasualintheirinteractionswithfacultymembers.Mycolleaguesaroundthecountrygrumbleaboutstudents’sloppyemailsandblitheinformality.

MarkTomforde,amathprofessorattheUniversityofHoustonwhohasbeenteachingforalmosttwodecades,addedetiquetteguidelinestohiswebsite.“Whenstudentsstartedcallingmebymyfirstname,Ifeltthatwastoofar,andI’vegottosaysomething,”hetoldme.“Therewerealsotheemailswrittenliketextmessages.Worsethanthetextabbreviationswasthelevelofinformality,withnoaddressorsignoff.”

Hiswebpagecoversmattersrangingfromappropriateemailaddresses(ifyou’restillusing“[email protected],”then“it’stimetoretirethataddress”)tohowtobegraciouswhenmakingarequest(“donotmakedemands”).

Sociologistswhosurveyedundergraduatesyllabusesfrom2004and2010foundthatin2004,14percentaddressedissuesrelatedtoclassroometiquette;sixyearslater,thatnumberhadmorethandoubled,to33percent.Thisphenomenoncrossessocio-economiclines.MycolleaguesatStanfordgripeasmuchastheoneswhoteachatstateschools,andstudentsfrommoreprivilegedbackgroundsareoftentheworstoffenders.

UCan’tTalktoUrProfessorLikeThis

6/9/2019 Opinion | U Can’t Talk to Ur Professor Like This – The New York Times

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Whyaresomanyteachersbentoutofshapebecauseastudentfailstocallthem“Professor”orneglectstoproofreadanemail?Areacademicsreallythatinsecure?Isthisjustanothercaseofscapegoatingmillennialsforchangesinthebroaderculture?

Don’tdismissthesecallsforold-fashionedcourtesyasacaseoffragileivorytoweregosormisplacednostalgia.Thereisastrongliberalcaseforusingformalmannersandtitlestoensurerespectforalluniversityprofessionals,regardlessofage,raceorgender.Moreimportant,doingsohelpsdefendtheuniversity’sdearestvaluesatatimewhentheyareundercontinualassault.

It’struethattheconventionsthathave,untilrecently,ruledhighereducationdidnotrulefromtimeimmemorial.Twocenturiesago,studentsoftenrejectedexpectationsofdeference.In1834,HarvardstudentsrebelledwhensomeoftheirclassmateswerepunishedforrefusingtomemorizetheirLatintextbook.Theybrokethewindowsofateacher’sapartmentanddestroyedhisfurniture.Whenthepresidentofthecollegecrackeddownandsuspendedtheentiresophomoreclass,thejuniorsretaliatedbyhangingandburninghimineffigyandsettingoffarudimentaryexplosiveinthecampuschapel.

Laterinthe19thcentury,etiquettemanualsproliferatedinbookstores,andAmericansbegantoemphasizeelaboratesocialprotocols.Ascollegesexpandedandacademicdisciplinesprofessionalized,theymimickedthehierarchicalculturesoftheGermanresearchuniversities,wherestudentscoweredbefore“HerrProfessorDoktor.”

ThehistorianJohnKassonhasnotedthatbackthen,formaletiquettewasnotaimedatensuringrespectforall.Itwas,inpart,asystemtoenforceboundariesofrace,classandgenderatatimewhenthegrowthofcitiesandmasstransitforcedAmericansintoclosequarterswithstrangers.Codesofbehaviorserved“aschecksagainstafullydemocraticorderandinsupportofspecialinterests,institutionsofprivilegeandstructuresofdomination,”hewritesinhisbook“RudenessandCivility.”

ErikCarter

6/9/2019 Opinion | U Can’t Talk to Ur Professor Like This – The New York Times

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Buttoday,ontheothersideofthecivilrightsrevolution,formaltitlesandetiquettecanbetoolstoprotectdisempoweredminoritiesandensurethatthemodernuniversitybelongstoallofus.Studentsseemmoreinclinedtousecasualformsofaddresswithprofessorswhoareyoung,nonwhiteandfemale—someofwhomhaverespondedbybecomingvocaldefendersofold-fashionedpropriety.

AngelaJackson-Brown,aprofessorofEnglishatBallStateUniversityinMuncie,Ind.,toldmethat“mostofmystudentswillacknowledgethatI’mthefirstandonlyblackteacherthey’veeverhad.”Insistingonherformaltitleisimportant,shesaid:“IfeeltheextraburdenofhavingtogoinfromDay1andestablishthatIbelonghere.”

WhenProfessorJackson-Brownbeganteachinginthe1990s,moststudentsrespectedherauthority.Butinrecentyears,thatdeferencehaswaned(sheblamestheinformalityofsocialmedia).“Igooutofmywaynowtonotgivethemaccesstomyfirstname,”shesaid.“Oneverysyllabus,itstatesclearly:ʻPleaseaddressmeasProfessorJackson-Brown.’”

Shelinkedthispolicytotheatmosphereofmutualrespectthatshecultivatesinherclasses.Thesedays,simplybeingconsideratecanfeellikeapoliticalact.“Afterthisrecentelection,I’vehadseveralfemalestudentscometomeandsay,ʻI’mnoticingdifferencesinhowmenaretreatingme.’It’sheartbreaking,”shesaid.“We’retryingtosetstandardsforthemthattheymaynotseeoutsidetheclassroom,placeswhereyou’dthinktherewouldbedecorum.”

Thislogicresonateswithsomestudents.“Havingthesetitlesforceseveryonetogivethatrespect,”LyndahLovell,agraduatingseniorattheCollegeofWilliam&MaryinWilliamsburg,Va.,said.“Theyknowtheyhavetousethesemannerswitheveryone.Eveniftheunderlyingthoughtsofprejudicewillstillbetheretosomeextent,yougivethesethoughtslesspower.”

Insistingontraditionaletiquetteisalsosimplygoodpedagogy.It’sateacher’sjobtocorrectsloppyprose,whetherinanessayoranemail.AndIsuspectthatmostofthetime,studentswhocallfacultymembersbytheirfirstnamesandsendslangymessagesarenotseekingamorecasualrapport.Theyjustdon’tknowtheyshoulddootherwise—noonehasbotheredtoexplainittothem.Explainingtherulesofprofessionalinteractionisnotanactofcondescension;it’sthefirststepintreatingstudentslikeadults.

Thatsaid,theteacher-studentrelationshipdependsonaspecialkindofinequality.“OnceIrefertothemasIwouldmybestfriend,Ieliminatethatboundaryofclarity,”Ms.Lovelltoldme.SherecalledhowawkwardshefeltwhentheheadoftheresearchlabwheresheworkedaskedundergraduatestocallhimWilly.“Allmyfriendsweresaying:ʻOh,man,dowedothis?HehasaPh.D.He’saprofessor.IsitO.K.todothis?’SometimesIdo,buthe’sagreatmentor,andit’sconfusing.Alotofusliketopreservethatdistance.”

AlexisDelgado,asophomoreattheUniversityofRochester,isskepticalofprofessorswhomakeapointofinsistingontheirtitle.“Ialwaysthinkit’sapowermove,”shetoldme.“Justbecausesomeonegaveyouapieceofpaperthatsaysyou’resmartdoesn’tmeanyoucancommunicate

6/9/2019 Opinion | U Can’t Talk to Ur Professor Like This – The New York Times

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thoseideastome.Ireservetherighttojudgeifyou’reagoodprofessor.”

Butsheruefullyrecalledoneyoungprofessorwhomadethemistakeoftellingtheclassthathedidn’tcareiftheyusedhisfirstname.“Hedidn’trealizehowfaritwouldgo,andweallthought,thisisawkward,”shesaid.“Ihadnodesiretobefriends.Ionlywantedtoaskquestions.”

Duringofficehours,wehavefrankconversationsaboutcareerchoices,mentalhealthcrisesandfamilytribulations.Butthelastthingmoststudentswantfromamentoristhepretenseofchumminess.

Ms.Lovellsaidtheveryactofcommunicatingmoreformallyhelpshergetsomedistanceonapersonalproblem.“WhenIexplainmydifficultiesandstruggles,Itrytoexplaininamatureway,”shesaid.“Iwanttoknow:Howwouldsomeoneolderthanmethinkthroughthis?”

Thefacileegalitarianismofthefirst-namebasiscanimpedegoodteachingandmentoring,butitalsopresentsamoreinsidiousthreat.Itunderminesthemessagethatacademictitlesaremeanttoconvey:esteemforlearning.Thecentralendeavorofhighereducationisnotthepursuitofmoneyorfamebutknowledge.“Thereneedstobesomeunderstandingthatdegreesmeansomething,”ProfessorJackson-Brownsaid.“Otherwise,whyareweencouragingthemtogetaneducation?”

Thevaluesofhighereducationarenotthevaluesofthecommercial,capitalistparadigm.Atatimewhencorporateexecutivespopulateuniversityboardsandpoliticiansdemandproofofadiploma’simmediatecashvalue,thisdistinctionneedsvigilantdefense.

Theerosionofetiquetteencouragesstudentstoviewfacultymembersasabunchofovereducatedcustomerserviceagents.“Moreandmore,studentsviewtheprocessofgoingtocollegeasabusinesstransaction,”Dr.Tomforde,themathprofessor,toldme.“Theyseethemselvesasacustomer,andtheyviewknowledgeasaphysicalthingwheretheypaymoneyandIhandthemtheknowledge—soiftheydon’tdowellonatest,theythinkIhaven’tkeptupmysideofthebusinessagreement.”Headded,“Theyviewprofessorsinawaysimilartothepersonbehindthecountergettingtheircoffee.”

ButifAmericancultureingeneral—includingmanyworkplaces—hasbecomelessformal,areprofessorsdoingstudentsadisservicebyinsistingonold-fashionedmanners?

WhenAnnaLewisleftaPh.D.programinEnglishtoworkatatechnologyfirm,shehadtolearntooperateinadifferentculture.Yetshehasnoticedthattheinformalityofthetechindustrycanmisleadnewmillennialemployees.

“TheyseetheycancalleveryonefromtheC.E.O.downbytheirfirstname,andthatcanbeconfusing—becausewhattheyoftendon’trealizeisthatthere’sstillahighstandardofprofessionalism,”shetoldme.“Attheinternlevel,thesethingsarebasic,buttheyrequire

6/9/2019 Opinion | U Can’t Talk to Ur Professor Like This – The New York Times

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reminders:showuptomeetingsontime;beawarethatyou,yourself,arefullyresponsibleforyourworkschedule.Nooneisgoingtotellyoutoattendameeting.”Inotherwords,younggraduatesmistakeinformalityforlicensetoactunprofessionally.

“Thereissomevalueinbeingschooledinmoreformaletiquette,developingpersonalandprofessionalaccountability,aworkethicandalevelofempathy,whichisverymuchvaluedinthetechindustry,”Ms.Lewissaid.

Here’sananalogy:Weshouldteachstudentstraditionaletiquetteforthesamereasonmostgreatabstractpaintersfirstmasteredfigurativepainting.Inordertoabandonorriffonaform,youhavetogetthehangofitsunderlyingprinciples.

Thatmeansthatprofessorsshouldtakethetimetoexplaintheseprinciples,makingitclearthatlearninghowtowriteaprofessionalemailandrelatetoauthorityfiguresisnotjustpreparationforajobaftergraduation.Therealpointistostandupforthevaluesthathavemadeouruniversitiestheguardiansofcivilization.

Andifyou’regoingtowriteanangryemailtellingmehowwrongIam,Ibegyou:Pleaseproofreaditbeforeyouhit“send.”

MollyWorthenistheauthorof“ApostlesofReason:TheCrisisofAuthorityinAmericanEvangelicalism,”anassistant

professorofhistoryattheUniversityofNorthCarolina,ChapelHill,andacontributingopinionwriter.

IinviteyoutojoinmeonTwitter(@MollyWorthen).FollowTheNewYorkTimesOpinionsectiononFacebookandTwitter

(@NYTopinion),andsignupfortheOpinionTodaynewsletter.

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Molly Worthen Department of History

University of North Carolina

Rules of Academic Etiquette General rules of thumb:

• When in doubt about how you should speak, write, or act, always err on the side of formality. You will never offend or annoy someone by being overly formal and polite.

• While you are in college, your coursework is your job. You should behave as you would in a professional work environment.

When addressing your professors in person:

• Always address them as “Professor Smith” or “Dr. Smith.” • Do not call them by their first names or anything else unless they explicitly ask

you to do so. When writing an email to your professor:

• Begin the email with “Dear Professor Smith,” Dear Prof. Smith,” or “Dear Dr. Smith.” Do not begin the email “Hi” without addressing your professor by their title and surname.

• Be alert to the tone of your message. Any email to a professor or teaching assistant should sound like a formal letter, not a text message or a demand to a customer service representative. For example, you should write:

Dear Professor Smith, I cannot come to your office hours this week. Are you available at any time on Monday instead? Sincerely, Jane

Do NOT write

Hi, I need to talk to you about the test. Can I come by Mon? Thx Jane

Do NOT write Hello, I’m a senior and I need your class to graduate. ConnectCarolina says I need permission. I need you to enroll me immediately. Jane

• Write in complete sentences with correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation. • Proofread your email before sending it.

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Email Etiquette: Guidelines for Writing to Your

Professors

The way in which you communicate and present

yourself when writing to your professors is extremely

important.

When you write to a professor, you should view it as aprofessional exchange. How you choose to interactconveys your level of seriousness and professionalism. Itnot only affects how your professor views you, but it alsodetermines how much time they are going to take to dealwith your issues. If you come off as rude, clueless, orirresponsible, then it will affect how your professor responds. This will have consequences for howthe professor interacts with you and possibly also how they evaluate you. As with any professionalinteraction, it is in your best interest to be respectful, polite, and courteous when communicatingwith professors. Your emails, and the words you use, are a reflection of you and your attitudes.

Here are a few basic tips that you should follow when emailing your professors or instructors.

1. View an Email to a Professor as a Professional Interaction. In many ways, writing to aprofessor is no different from writing a business letter. Keep in mind that you are not textingwith a friend or writing a casual message to an acquaintance — this is a professional interactionwith someone who is an expert in their field and in an official position to evaluate you andgrade your work. Your emails should contain the proper parts of letter, convey respect andcourtesy, and reflect the fact you are a serious student. Here are a few specific tips:

Begin your email by addressing your professor by title and name, and end your

email with a closing and your signature. A message that begins without a greeting orends without a signature could be viewed as rudeness or indifference on the part of thewriter. Refer to your professor by the title "Professor" or "Dr.". If your professor has aPh.D, you should address them as "Professor LastName" or "Dr. LastName". If they donot have a Ph.D., or if you are not sure, address them simply as "Professor LastName".Unless explicitly instructed to do so, never address your professor by their first name.Begin your email with a greeting addressing the professor politely, such as "Dear

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Professor Smith" or "Hi Dr. Jones". After your message, end with a closing andsignature, such as "Sincerely, YourName" or "Thanks, YourName". If the professor doesnot know you well, use your full name. If the professor knows you or you've spoke inperson a few times, your first name will suffice.

Be clear and concise. Make sure your message is easy to understand, and that you do notgo into unnecessary details. Writing in a professional manner does not mean yourmessage must be long. If your question is short or direct, a one-sentence email (providedit includes a greeting and signature) is fine.

Use correct spelling and proper

grammar. If your email is filled withspelling and grammar errors it indicates oneof two things: (1) You are woefullyuneducated; or (2) You care so little aboutthe person you are writing that you areunwilling to take the time to write properly. Neither is something you want to convey toyour professor. Use complete sentences. Use proper spelling, capitalization, andgrammar. Be particularly careful using homophones, such as there/their/they're orto/two/too. Do not use grammatically incorrect colloquialisms, such as "gonna" or "couldof". Do not use emoticons. Do not use text abbreviations, such as "R U gonna have urclass 2morrow cuz i won't b there".

"Good English, well spoken and well written, will open more doors than acollege degree. Bad English will slam doors you didn't even know existed." — William Raspberry

2. Use Proper Email Etiquette. In addition to the content of your message, there are othertechnical aspects to being professional and courteous in email.

Use an account with an appropriate email address.

Ideally, you should use your university email account.Cutesy, offensive, or childish email addresses areinappropriate in professional interactions, and it is abig mistake if you use one. If you have an emailaddress of the form  [email protected]   or  [email protected]   or   [email protected]   then it's time to retire thataddress in favor of something more grown up and more professional. If you don't want to

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use your university email address, create a Gmail account of the form  [email protected].   If you like, you can forward email from yourother accounts to your new one. Your email address, including both the username and thedomain name, is a reflection of your professionalism. (See this comic by The Oatmeal.)In addition, silly email addresses have a much higher chance of getting flagged as spamand never making it to your professor's inbox.

Make sure the emails you send display your full name in the "From" field. In youremail preferences, you can set the "From Name" that recipients see when they get youremails. This should be set to include both your first name and last name. It should not beyour email address; it should not be only your first name; and it should not be a nicknameor a handle. When your professor looks at their inbox, it helps them if they can seeimmediately who the message is from, and recognize you as a student in their class. Ifyou're not sure how the "From Name" appears in emails from your account, send anemail to yourself and take a look. Again, emails that don't display your full name have ahigher chance of getting flagged as spam and never making it to your professor's inbox.

Always use an informative subject line. Do notleave the subject line blank. Subject lines help therecipient to determine what the email is regardingbefore opening the message. The subject line also aidsin organizing and locating email in the future. It is helpful if your subject contains thecourse name and a brief explanation of the nature of the email. For example: "Math3333-Question about Homework" or "Math 2331-Request for Meeting".

3. Do Not Waste Your Professor's Time. Professors are incredibly busy, and teaching is not theonly part of their job. If you send emails with trivial requests, or if you ask a professor to dothings you could easily do yourself, it indicates that you do not respect your professor or valuetheir time. In addition, be very careful you do not send emails that convey the message "I needto know this, and you need to tell me right now." Here are some common student mistakes thatyou should avoid:

Do not email to ask basic questions you can answer for yourself. If you don't knowwhat a word means, try looking it up in the index of the textbook. If you don't know howto do an exercise, check your notes to see if a similar one was done in lecture. Classpolicies, such as office hours, assignment details, writing guidelines, grading criteria,policies on missed classes and exams, etc. are almost always addressed in the syllabus. Ifsomething is still not clear, then by all means ask your question — but first attempt toanswer the question yourself and only write if you need further clarification.

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Do not make demands. If you are asking for anythingrequiring time or energy, you should be courteous andphrase it as a request. Do not presume your request willbe granted or that you automatically deserve specialaccommodations. If you miss an exam, for whateverreason, do not write and say "I missed an exam. Whencan I make it up?". Instead, explain why you haveextenuating circumstances, and ask the professor if theywill allow you to make up the exam. Likewise, if you have special needs or a disabilitythat requires accommodation, do not write the professor an email telling them what theyhave to do. Explain your circumstances and your needs, and ask politely foraccommodation.

Do not email to explain why you missed class. Most professorsare tired of these kinds of excuses, and most do not care. Ifsomething serious has occurred, or you need specialaccommodations, you should go to office hours and discuss it inperson.

Do not write your professor asking for copies of their notes because you missed

class. Professors are busy, and it's not their responsibility to do more work because youdidn't come to class. Instead, ask a classmate.

Do not write asking for extra credit. If you don't understand why, see this page.

Do not email to ask what your

current grade is, or how many points

you need on the final to get a certain

grade in the class. If there is a graderfor your class, your professor may noteven have your homework scores. Oftenthe grader gives them to the professor atthe end of the semester. You should bekeeping track of your scores onhomework and exams. The syllabus describes how the portions of the course areweighted and how your final percentage in the class is calculated. You should be able tocalculate your current grade and what score you need to get a certain final percentage inthe class. If you are not keeping track of your scores on homework and exams, it shows

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you do not care very much about the class or your academic performance. If you areconcerned about your grade, go to office hours and talk about it in person rather thanwriting an email.

4. Before Sending an Email, Check That What You Have Written is Appropriate.

Remember that you are engaging in a professional exchange, not writing to a friend. Here aresome tips:

Do not use your email to vent, rant, or whine. If you have a complaint, or are nothappy about something, explain yourself calmly and ask if anything can be done. Youmay very well be frustrated about a situation, but sending an angry email will not helpthings. In situations like this, it is also often more helpful to talk to the professor inperson rather than send an email — particularly since tone and intent can often bemisinterpreted in emails.

Do not share inappropriate personal details. Detailed information onyour love life, health issues, home life, or family situation are often notappropriate or even relevant. Discuss only what relates to the class. Ifsomething serious is occurring in your life, talk to the professor inperson.

Be respectful, and consider whether anything you have written might sound rude or

offensive to your professor. For example, don't flippantly say that you slept through theprofessor's class, or say that you hate the subject or course, or that you think theprofessor is too strict. These things are all offensive and inappropriate. Likewise, do notwrite your professor asking if they covered anything important on a day you missed —by doing so you imply that most of what the professor covers in class is not important.

5. Allow Time For a Response. Professors are busy and have many other job responsibilities inaddition to your class. Also, you should not expect professors to be responding to email atnight or first thing in the morning. Allow up to 24 hours for a professor to reply — possiblymore if it is a weekend or holiday.

6. Do Not Use Email as a Substitute for Face-To-Face Conversation. Most professorscomplain that students fail to take advantage of office hours and speak with them in person.Many issues are often better handled in person than by email. Discussions about assignmentsor grades, questions about homework problems, requests for a letter of recommendation, and