Is it just me, or are we witnessing an epidemic of familiarity among undergraduates?
They’re all calling me by my first name. Is this happening in your classroom too?
I’m not that much older than a lot of my students, generationally (I’m apparently just on the cusp between being an echo-boomer and a millennial, for those who keep track -- but old enough I don’t think they’re mistaking me for a fellow undergrad). However, I feel like their grandmother when I receive their emails, and clutch my pearls when I get a message addressed to “Hi Katrina” (or just “hi”) from students I haven’t even met.
Perhaps this has struck me particularly as I went from living in Germany, where even to colleagues I was “Frau Gulliver,” to teaching in Australia where students seem surprised I even have a last name.
As an undergraduate I never addressed my teachers by their first names (and I walked 10 miles a day, neck deep in snow ... believe me, I KNOW how fogeyish this all sounds); for me becoming a grad student and getting onto first names with my adviser was a big step. I’ve felt it sends a message to graduate students that they are more like colleagues than undergraduates.
I address my undergraduates as Ms. or Mr., in the classroom and when I reply to their emails. Some get the hint but many are apparently oblivious. I’ve tried joking about it when students use my first name in class, or writing in emails that I do not do first names with undergrads. It’s hard not to come off as uptight, and some students seem genuinely surprised. Other times it’s clearly an attempt to rile me with some disrespect (typically coming from male students who like to undermine female authority).
But I understand that students are often confused about how to approach their teachers at university. The world of academic ranks is all pretty confusing to anyone outside it, and the various titles on people’s doors doesn’t really help (Do any associate professors and vice presidents people get emails addressed to “Dear Associate” or “Dear Vice”?).
Add to that the fact that many undergraduates will be in classes led by T.A.s who tend to go by first names (and are themselves graduate students). I think this is where part of the confusion starts for undergraduates. They’re not clear on all of the respective statuses of the teachers they encounter.
Into this mix too there is of course a gender dimension. I’m often addressed in class as “Miss.” I recently asked students about this, and I was told it was a habit from high school, where they were used to addressing their teachers in high school as “Miss” or “Sir.” I pointed out that these terms are hardly equal, and that they are quite welcome to call me Sir (nobody took me up on that one).
I’ve always been of the view that I don’t want to undermine my own authority in the classroom by dressing like the students, inviting them to use my first name, or making any other gestures towards “being down with the kids.” I find many other female academics also take this approach.
To add to the confusion, in most departments there is the species of (white) male professor, who wants to be seen as “cool” (you know the one, who shows up dressed like he’s come to mow the lawn), who invites all the youngsters to “call me Dave,” resting safely in the comfort of assumed male authority. If you’re one of these guys: you are not helping the rest of us.
(For those who are going to slam me for being uptight, watch your privilege).
I also feel it’s our job to teach students how to behave in a professional setting, and not sending the kind of emails that are all lower-case is part of it. (Lisa Wade quoted the hilariously awful email she received from a student when she was visiting another university to give a talk -- read it here.) Addressing someone you don’t know by their first name is also something that won’t always win you any prizes in the real world.
So I’ll keep insisting on formality from my students, even if they make comments about my being pedantic or bossy on their student evaluations. And I thank goodness I’m not the friend of mine who received an email from a student that started “hello kitten.”
Katrina Gulliver teaches at the University of New South Wales.
In today's Academic Minute, David Trilling, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Northern Arizona University, explains the options available if we ever find ourselves in the line of fire. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.
Fabrice Tourre, the former Goldman Sachs trader known as "Fabulous Fab" and as someone found liable for defrauding investors, won't be teaching economics to undergraduates at the University of Chicago. While he had been scheduled to do so, The Wall Street Journal reported that Chicago has yanked that course away from him. Tourre is a Ph.D. student at the university, and he will instead fulfill his teaching assignments with graduate courses.
The National Coalition Against Censorship -- which includes numerous academic groups -- has written to Kennesaw State University to demand the restoration of an installation that administrators ordered removed from an exhibit last week. The installation was about land once owned by Corra Harris (1869-1935), who was a prominent author and whose homestead the university accepted as a gift to preserve in 2009 -- over the objections of some faculty members. Part of the installation dealt with a racist letter Harris wrote -- a letter that launched her careers and that has had her identified ever since as an apologist for lynching. The university said that the installation was ordered removed from an exhibit in the new art museum at Kennesaw State because the work was "not aligned with the celebratory atmosphere of the museum’s opening."
The letter from the National Coalition Against Censorship says in part: "The removal of Ruth Stanford's [the artist's] work is not only a missed educational opportunity, it also raises serious constitutional concerns. As a public educational institution, Kennesaw State has an obligation under the First Amendment not to discriminate against particular ideas, no matter how controversial they might be."
A spokeswoman for the university said that she did not know of a response from the institution.
In today's Academic Minute, Michael Bruno, dean and professor of engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology, reveals how imaging technology can be used to educate and inform residence in the path of future storms. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.
Some faculty members are concerned that Bryan College, a Christian institution in Tennessee, is making its required statement of faith so specific in its Biblical literalism that it may be difficult for them to teach there, The Times Free Press reported.
Like many Christian colleges, Bryan requires faculty members to sign and abide by a statement of faith, which has said in part that "the origin of man was by fiat of God in the act of creation as related in the Book of Genesis; that he was created in the image of God; that he sinned and thereby incurred physical and spiritual death." That statement of faith has been broad enough that some faculty members have said they can believe in evolution and also sign the statement, arguing that they believe evolution was divinely inspired. But the Bryan board has adopted changes to make the statement more specific, and that's why some faculty members believe their beliefs are being declared unwelcome. The addition to the statement says: "We believe that all humanity is descended from Adam and Eve. They are historical persons created by God in a special formative act, and not from previously existing life forms."
Bryan College's anti-evolution stance dates to its founding. The college was founded in 1930 in honor of William Jennings Bryan, the lawyer who crusaded against evolution in the Scopes trial.
Although these sound bites slight the seriousness of their subject, Cuomo’s critics raise a fundamentally important question: When low- and middle-income students are burdened by tens of thousands of dollars of debt, how can government support for college prison programs be justified?
And the issue matters not only in New York State, where Cuomo’s proposal has captured public attention, but nationwide, where the idea of promoting college education in prisons is mostly ignored by politicians fearful of the kinds of attacks Cuomo is receiving.
We agree that any argument for funding college courses and/or degrees for prison inmates must reckon with the reality of the financial pressure on students who incur onerous college loans only to face an uncertain job market. In New York State, 6 out of 10 college seniors graduate with debt averaging $25,537, a reality not lost on some of our students in the Cayuga Community College-Cornell University Prison Education Program. Many men in our program have sons, daughters, nieces and nephews on the outside who are struggling to pay their own college loans.
That said, approaching college programs for prison inmates as a matter of “them or us,” the middle class or the undeserving poor, distorts what is at stake. This happened before. In the mid-1990s, Congress eliminated the use of federal Pell Grants for college programs in prison in response to critics who claimed that they drew resources away from worthy young men and women who were struggling to pay their way through college.
That was misguided then, and it remains so now.
First of all, the cost is relatively small. Governor Cuomo has proposed 10 programs, each with about 100 students, at a cost of $5,000 per individual that totals about $5 million. Compare this to the financial support available to New York college students more generally. In 2013, close to $2 billion in federal Pell Grants were disbursed to about 97,000 students in New York State, a figure that does not include a vast array of other federal and state as well as private scholarship and loan money available generally to students in New York’s two- and four-year colleges.
Second, the us-vs.-them frame is blind to the crime reduction and tax benefits that even a small college-educated prison population can deliver. College programs lower the incidence of crime both inside the prison and beyond its walls. Facility superintendents are usually eager to have college programs. A good discipline record is required to join and remain in the program. In those facilities with college classes, the incentive for staying out of trouble rises sharply.
When college-educated individuals are released to the street, recidivism drops dramatically. The Bard and Hudson Link prison education programs record low single digit return-to-prison rates of their students and graduates. A careful, synthetic analysis of multiple studies done in Ohio reports college as contributing to a one-third decline in reincarceration.
Even under conservative assumptions, the program will pay for itself and more. Assuming a $5 million cost, the release of no more than one-tenth of the 100 students in each of the 10 graduating classes, and recidivism rates of not more than 25 percent (much above the single-digit recidivism rate that New York State’s college programs currently experience), the savings during the first year are close to $5 million. Compounded over many years, they are substantial.
Third, it would be a mistake to see the benefits only in quantifiable monetary terms. Many student recipients of a college education behind bars play a role in urging young members of their own families to stay in school, to work hard, and to consider college. On returning home, many of these former students become passionate mentors of younger adults who face the same choices they once did. And the “us-them” divide is blurred still further in that many prison students become us returning to OUR families, our neighborhoods, our workplaces, and our communities.
We ask that voters and our elected representatives act on the proposition that all New Yorkers – and all Americans – are better off by ridding ourselves of the legacy of binaries that force us to choose between the morally pure and the undeserving poor and by implementing public policies that reflect a commitment to provide education free of any racial, class, or moral litmus test.
Glenn Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. Mary Fainsod Katzenstein is the Stephen and Evalyn Milman Professor of American Studies at Cornell University.
The Graduate Center of the City University of New York announced Friday that Paul Krugman, the Nobel laureate and professor of economics and political science at Princeton University, would be joining the faculty. He will switch universities but keep writing his column in The New York Times. At a time that many leading public universities worry about losing talent to private institutions, Krugman's hire was announced just after that of Cathy Davidson, who is moving to the Graduate Center from Duke University.