The Washington Post

Miss Manners: Professor upset by college students’ informality

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a university professor, and I am annoyed by students at all levels referring to me by my first name without permission and e-mailing me without a greeting or using my name.

Many of my colleagues are on first-name bases with students of all levels, freshman to graduate students. One says he asks students to just call him Joe.

I don’t. I ask students to use one of my professional monikers, either doctor or professor. And when they e-mail me without using my name or offering a greeting, such as “Hi, Dr. Young,” I politely ask them to follow more formal protocols, at least on the first round of the e-mail conversation.

But students often take offense to my formality and see me as an unfriendly ogre, which is not the case. What’s the balance here? Do I allow students to call me by my first name and send e-mails with no greetings? In short, should I just try to get over it?

GENTLE READER: Getting over worrying about whether your students perceive you as friendly would be the better choice. If you were really their friend, you wouldn’t make them work; you would pass out top grades and sterling recommendations like candy. And maybe candy, too.

But being seen as an ogre is not the only alternative. You should be seen as a fair and reasonably approachable authority figure.

Miss Manners is guessing that the students are not so much offended by formality as they are by being corrected. You should hear what they say when they get their papers back with your corrections. (If they are smart, the version you do hear, when they show up to argue about their grades, is milder.)

Social corrections hurt even more. But you can avoid the necessity if you issue general instructions at the beginning of the semester. “Here’s how to get in touch with me,” you can say, handing out a sample letter with the correct form, as well as your address.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: On occasion my husband and I receive written invitations to attend out-of-town weddings. Normally, that is impractical to do, so we send a congratulatory card and a generous check ($50 to $100) along with our regrets.

Sometimes we don’t get an acknowledgment, but do get our canceled check in our monthly bank statement.

If a later announcement, e.g., a birth notice, is received from the same couple, my husband refuses to send another congratulatory check. His theory is “No thank-you — no more checks.” He just simply ignores the announcement.

I feel like we are alienating some people. What is your recommendation in such cases?

GENTLE READER: If you have to pay them to keep them happy, they are not friends. Miss Manners sides with your husband about the checks but recommends a letter of congratulations — first, because that is the proper response to happy announcements, and second, because it might head off their asking whether your check was lost in the mail.

Visit Miss Manners at her Web site,, where you can send her your questions.

@ 2011, by Judith Martin

Distributed by Universal Uclick for UFS

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