I am one of Dr. Glanzer’s Ph.D. students and, in all honesty, the request he described in his thought-provoking blog post Who are You to Your Students? An Experiment made me uncomfortable. In the post, he detailed his rationale for requesting that students address him as “Brother Perry.” In his email to the students, he asked us to “interrogate your past identity influences to see whether certain fallen elements determine your comfort level with using that phrase.”

I was initially unable to pinpoint the reasons for my discomfort. Although the heart is deceitful above all things (Jer. 17:9), I did not believe my concern was due to my fallen nature. I also ruled out the fact that I come from an educational background in which there is a more formal relationship between student and professor than here in the United States e.g. I have no problem with addressing a different professor in the same department by his first name. The source of the discomfort was to be found elsewhere.

As with so many challenges, the discomfort lay with how I perceived the problem. All of my interactions with Dr. Glanzer up until that point had been those typical of interactions between a student and the head of a program. I knew that Dr. Glanzer was my brother in Christ but such knowledge had few practical implications for our engagement. We all inhabit multiple identities and even though my Christian identity is my most important identity (and it informs all of my other identities!) it is not always the appropriate identity with which to function. That is, I can be a Christian and a student, but the most functionally important identity in my relationship with Dr. Glanzer had always been that I was the latter.

Here is where the discomfort lay: Dr. Glanzer’s request left me confused. What exactly did it mean to address my professor as “first and foremost Brother Perry?” None of the usual activities that I associated with Christian community seemed to be appropriate in my relationship with him. I had not yet broken bread with Dr. Glanzer, prayed together, shared encouragement in the faith etc. Again, almost all of my interactions with Dr. Glanzer were those between a student and a professor, and so the most functionally appropriate identity for me to adopt was that of a student. If nothing were to change apart from how I address him, then I was not sure that addressing him as Brother Perry would be appropriate.

There were three factors that helped me resolve this dilemma. When in doubt, the book of Proverbs encourages readers to seek out an abundance of counsellors, and so I forwarded Glanzer’s email to people whom I respect. My brother, one the most thoughtful Christians I know, gave an enthusiastic endorsement of Dr. Glanzer’s email. This served as further reason to question my discomfort. Second, scripture is clear that we are to treat others as being more important than ourselves (Phil 2:3) and so I was encouraged to acquiesce to his request. Such a stance was undoubtedly made easier by my cultural disposition which tends to respect both those who are older and those in authority. The final factor was the realization that I was viewing the entire situation through what Bolman and Deal would call the structural frame.1 I have since tried to view Dr. Glanzer’s request in the symbolic frame and that also helped dispel my discomfort.

It is for these three reasons that I now happily address Dr Glanzer as Brother Perry, and I am grateful that he requested that we do so. Although I am not sure that the change of a title will necessarily result in students changing their views of the professor, Dr. Glanzer’s email was an invitation to think deeper about the role of one’s identity in the classroom. As someone who aims to enter the professoriate, it has been a most instructive exercise.

Footnotes

  1. Lee G. Bolman, and Terrence E. Deal, Reframing Organizations : Artistry, Choice, and Leadership 6th edition (Hoboken, New Jersey: Jossey-Bass, 2017).

Kevin O'Donoghue

Baylor University
Kevin O'Donoghue is a full-time doctoral student studying Higher Education and Leadership at Baylor University

2 Comments

  • Jeff Doyle says:

    Kevin,
    Great piece! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and demonstrating your reflection and change over time.

    What do you think you will suggest students call you once you complete your doctorate and continue teaching? I struggle with this but after trying to allow students to call me by my first name for a while, I realized it actually made them more comfortable to refer to me as Dr. D or Dr. Doyle. As soon as they complete my class, however, I start to sign my emails with Jeff. I am open to learning more – I am honestly more concerned with my actual relationship with them than what they call me – but I realize that symbolism is a powerful influence on our relationship.