Doctor me no doctors!

Mike Salovesh (t20mxs1@CORN.CSO.NIU.EDU)
Tue, 5 Mar 1996 01:49:52 -0600

Funny how custom doth make conformists of us all.

I got my habits about terms of address in academic settings out of many,
many years (far too many!) as a student at Chicago. The general rules
went something like this: There are only four reasons to call somebody
"Doctor". Everybody else is "Mr.", "Mrs.", "Miss", or "Ms." Lastname.

1. Call medicine men "Doctor". There's something in the
Hippocratic Oath that demands the title if they're
medical doctors, and someday they might have your life
in their hands. Dentists are medicine men for these
purposes -- those guys can have drills in your teeth!

2. Call somebody who successfully defended a dissertation
this morning "Doctor". The full term of address is
"Congratulations, Doctor!" Say this only once to a
recipient, or your praise will be taken as fulsome.

3. Call a Nobel Prize winner who is also wise and endearing
"Doctor". It's the least we mere mortals can do to show
our respect. (Enrico Fermi *deserved* to be called

4. If you call anybody else "Doctor", what you're really
saying is "And who the hell do you think you are . . .
*Doctor* ?"

Since I don't fit categories 1, 2, or 3, I get the terrible feeling that
anybody who calls me "Doctor" is putting me down with number 4. That's
why I tell my students that they should NEVER call me Doctor Salovesh.

I only label myself Dr. Salovesh when calling for an appointment with an
M.D. or a D.D.S., because it gets me extra service; or when dealing with
someone who obnoxiously and intrusively insists on the self-label Doctor
in a setting where it's irrelevant. (This second usage, in my mouth, is
always a put-down, but it has nothing to do with MY degree.)

I'll answer to Mr. Salovesh, or to Mike, anytime. I guess I would
reluctantly accept "Professor Salovesh" in a very formal academic
setting, but it makes me nervous. About every three or four years, some
students I am working with closely at the time reinvent the label "Dr.
Mike", and I find it very warming.

If "Joe Smith" is a student in a middle- to large-sized class of mine, he
will be called "Mr. Smith" unless HE insists on something else.
Similarly, women in my larger classes are called "Miss" or "Mrs." or "Ms."
plus their last name unless they tell me to say something else. That's
one way I can show respect for my students. I think that first-naming
them strips them of public respect. OTOH, in a small seminar, or
one-to-one outside the teaching setting, or at a party, "Joe" or "Joan"
feels right to me, so that's what I say.

BTW, the use of "Mr." is normal and habitual with me, so I didn't have to
decide what to call my students when I taught a course at Stateville, our
state's maximum security prison. Those students, however, took it as a
sign of unusual respect. They were grateful enough that once they let me
know a week in advance that there was going to trouble on the inside.
Sure enough, class was called off the following week because there was a
near-riot and the whole institution was on lockdown.

There's still plenty of room for status distinctions in this sort of
thing. As I remember my grad student days, those who were just beginnning
called either Robert J. Braidwood or Robert M. Adams "Bob", and F. Clark
Howell always was "Clark". It took a while to call Tax "Sol", and you had
to be pretty close to a Ph. D. before "Fred" felt comfortable as a term
of address for Eggan. I don't remember any students calling Redfield
"Bob" or even "Robert"; "Dr. Redfield" was not a rare form.

The binomial was the normal term of reference: Bob Adams (then the
newest faculty member) to Robert Redfield, it made no differenc.

mike salovesh, anthropology department <>
northern illinois university PEACE !