Doctor Who? Professors’ Titles Pose Age-Old Question


Not every instructor at Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) prefers to be called “professor” by students. Some instructors prefer doctor, while others prefer their first name.

For Lori Knight, an adjunct professor in the communication and media studies department, the rule is simple: “Just don’t call me dude,” she said.

While title preferences vary from professor to professor, many students are unaware of the reasons behind their choices.

“It doesn’t matter what title students call me—as long as it is respectable—because I do come from a professional background. My career has always been dealing with the world as a journalist,” Knight said.

Since Knight has experience as a journalist, she knows how to make her students feel comfortable in class.

“One of the things you do as a journalist is you want people to feel confident to be able to talk to you. In order to make them feel comfortable and safe, I want to come across as somebody who is trustworthy. I do not want to put a barrier up so that they feel unequal to me,” Knight said.

Arthur Werschulz, professor of computer science, has a slightly different view than Knight. “I prefer to be called Professor Werschulz or Dr. Werschulz. It is the same reason why I would call students Mr. Smith or Ms. Jones. It gives a professional relationship between the teacher and the students,” Werschulz said. “I do not prefer to call students by their first name just as I do not prefer them to call me by my first name. I’m not their friend and I don’t expect them to be my friend.”

One of Werschulz’s first college professors influenced his decision.  “I remember when I was a freshman in college, my professor called us Mr. So-and-so or Ms. So-and-so. It was a change from high school and it struck me quite favorably,” Werschulz said.

Leonard Nissim, an assistant professor of mathematics, prefers to be called professor by his students because “doctor is too generic, it can be a dentist or a veterinarian. Professor is more specific and names the profession I am in rather than one broad range of titles,” Nissim said.

Although Nissim prefers to be called professor, he does not mind it if students call him by his first name. “Different people have different ways of relating, which is why I do not insist on a specific address or title. Off campus, I would care even less about being called a title. It’s as if I am off duty,” Nissim said.

Sarah Lockhart, a professor of political science who also has a Ph.D., shares a similar view with Nissim. Lockhart does not mind if students call her by her first name. “Where I did my undergraduate degree, a small school, we often called our professors by their first names. I don’t really have a problem with whatever students want to call me as long as they say it in a respectable way,” Lockhart said.

Lockhart does appreciate it if students ask her before they start calling her by her first name. “I did work really long and hard to get the degree that I have so I would like some acknowledgement of that,” Lockhart said.

Lockhart joked, “Students usually call me Professor Lockhart, although that can be kind of bad because Professor Lockhart is a character in Harry Potter.”