In the first year of this blog, I addressed the issue of titles like “Doctor” and “Professor.” My viewpoint is basically the same now as it was then, but since I have picked up at least a few readers (I hope) since then, I guess I can plow this furrow once again.
I don’t use my academic titles socially.* My use of Professor for this blog dates from the anonymity I originally had, and from the fact that I thought the combination of Professor and Mondo (a youthful nickname derived from my size) was funny. Heck, had it not been for the anonymity bit, I suppose I could have used my more common nickname and called the blog “Doctor Smitty.” But honestly, I see my Ph.D. as a union card, not a title of nobility. Likewise, while I’m glad to have made full prof, it’s a job title — not an estimate of my value. (In my creative work, I don’t use my titles in my byline. . . because I want people to want to read it.)
Even in the academic setting, I’m pretty laid back about the whole business.** I’ve had students call me Dr./Prof./Mr. Moore, and Dr./Prof./Mr. Warren. (Because both my given name and surname are common surnames, I don’t take offense.) I don’t care much for “Mr. Warren,” because I live in the South and that feels kind of antebellum, but I’m not going to get insulted about it.*** Finally, I make a point of telling my graduates that they can feel free to call me Warren. **** Some do — some don’t. But I don’t mind.
None of this is to say that I don’t respect education — it’s my career, after all, and it’s a career I love. But I guess I wasn’t brought up to think much of rank or station. While all four of my grandparents were bright people, only one was a high school graduate, and she was likely the one who accomplished the least, despite being the most concerned with social station. And anyone who has attended a faculty meeting knows better than to think that a doctorate confers wisdom. Furthermore, I’m only too aware that while I have certain strengths, there are vast realms of human activity in which I’m useless at best, a detriment at worst. As Harlan Ellison noted, “When your toilet backs up, you don’t call Dostoevsky.”
I suppose I come by this small-d democratic impulse naturally, whether from my Scots-Irish heritage or from my immediate family members. I’ve told the story of my mother meeting the mother of one of my high school bandmates. The other kid’s mother introduced herself as “[Name], Ph.D.” My mother immediately replied with “Madge Moore, M-o-m.” Later, when she retold the story, my dad’s best friend alluded to “the kind of person who hangs the degree in the bathroom, so you have to look at it.” That’s not someone I ever want to be.
For some reason, I’m reminded of a story the late Bret Bearup told me, about his time as an exec of the Denver Nuggets. During that era, one of the team’s role players was Earl Boykins, who spent about a decade in the NBA despite being only 5’5″ tall. Bret told me that like many of the other players on the Nuggets, Boykins bought a Cadillac Escalade. Unlike the other players, however, Boykins didn’t have his vehicle fitted with big, gaudy rims. When some of the others teased him about that, Boykins shrugged: “I already know I’m rich.”
I already know I’m reasonably bright.
* — An exception to this is when others use their credential when introducing themselves to me. If you greet me as “Dr. So-and-so” and you aren’t a medic, then I’ll darned sure whip out my letters too.
** — It’s worth noting that the most punctilious user of my academic titles was my brother’s defense attorney. Maybe that soured my taste for it.
*** — I did make an exception for the kid who addressed me as “Pimp.” I explained to him that the way of the transgressor could be harsh, and in fact we had some good classes together and I wrote him a reference letter when the time came. Education takes many forms.
**** — No, Spawn, this does not apply to you. You are still required to address me with my very favorite title: Dad.