By Dr. Gary L. Deel, Ph.D., J.D.
I‘ve written previously about the importance of passionate teachers in the classroom. I’ve also written about the essential quality of humility for all critical thinkers. Combining these philosophies, one thing that I believe can be particularly counterproductive in the classroom is ego. And so I’ve adopted a relatively unusual practice, which is that I give my students permission to refer to me simply as “Gary” rather than require them to use of my “doctor” or “professor” titles.
I can already hear the gasps from some of my fellow educators as I type these words. So many arguments in staunch opposition:
“But you earned the right to be called ‘doctor’ and ‘professor’. You punished yourself through years of grad school for your titles. Why denigrate yourself?” they might say.
Or another argument is “If you don’t require your students to call you ‘doctor’ or ‘professor’, they won’t respect you. How else will they know who is in charge?”
I’ve heard these tired arguments repeatedly from friends and colleagues with whom I have shared the halls of academe. They imply a need for a kind of “legitimate authority” paradigm in academia, similar to the way the military operates with rigid ranks and regiments.
But I simply do not believe this is the most effective or helpful way to lead students. And so I’d like to take a moment with this article to explain why I have embraced the practice of not insisting upon the use of my “doctor” or “professor” titles.
First, I should acknowledge that I do feel a sense of accomplishment when I think about my academic degrees. But the fact is I didn’t go to grad school and study for so many years for the prestige or titles. I did it because I believe in the spirit of education and the necessity for each of us to grow as people through continuous learning.
So yes, I have absolutely earned the right to be called “doctor” or “professor.” But I don’t need it. I know my value. I know what I’ve learned and I know what I’ve accomplished. The degrees sit on my shelf. My hooded regalia hangs in my closet. I have a plaque on my wall from one of the universities I teach for that congratulates “Dr. Gary Deel” for…