Please don’t call me professor or lecturer
On the first day of class each semester, I write my first name on the board: Tadzio. Then, because it’s unusual, I explain how it's pronounced, and drill my students in saying it out loud. I use their first names when addressing them, and I expect they’ll use mine when addressing me.
At least one student every semester will ask why I don’t want to be called "Professor." After all, most people think of it as a term of respect, and I believe that my students almost always intend it that way (sometimes they have just forgotten how to pronounce the “dz” part).
Honestly, I would love to be called "Professor," but like a large majority of the faculty at Rutgers, I am not, in fact, a professor at all: I am a part-time lecturer, or PTL. While professors enjoy the benefits of full-time employment (and even one or two hang-overs from the lamented era of tenure), PTLs live a very different life.
As a PTL, I have a contract that lasts only one semester at a time. I am paid per credit that I teach (most classes are three credits) and my course load is limited to five classes per academic year. I receive no substantial benefits beyond use of the libraries –– not even a free flu shot.
When asked, I explain this to my students. “Professors,” I announce by way of introduction, “get health care.” What students are usually most surprised to learn is just how many of their instructors are probably part-time, temporary employees with no job security and no benefits.
“Professor” is a part of this. Encouraged by the administration (and, I suspect, instructors’ own pride) to call all teaching faculty “professor," students are shielded from the fact that they are being taught by an army of seasonal laborers. The word is a sleight-of-hand that distracts both student and PTL from the facts of their relationship –– and so I reject it.
Being called “Lecturer Koelb” wasn’t a very appealing alternative … so Tadzio it is. Should all PTLs ask to be called by their names? Or should we just hope that students sometimes recall, as they say, “I was wondering, Professor, about … ”, that there is a good statistical chance they are not addressing a professor at all.
Perhaps it would make no difference –– but it hardly behooves an institution dedicated to learning to hide facts by misusing language.
Tadzio Koelb is a School of Arts and Sciences part-time lecturer in the English writing program.