Exploring the Use of First Name to Address Faculty Members in Graduate Programs

By McDowell, Joan E.; Westman, Alida S. | College Student Journal, June 2005 | Go to article overview

Exploring the Use of First Name to Address Faculty Members in Graduate Programs


McDowell, Joan E., Westman, Alida S., College Student Journal


Twenty-six graduate psychology students at 2 Midwestern public universities used a self-report questionnaire for an exploratory study to rate interactions with faculty based on mode of address. When students addressed faculty by first name. they rated faculty as more approachable and helpful, and they felt more valued and respected by faculty than when they addressed faculty by formal title.

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Out-of-class contact between faculty members and undergraduate students is positively related to knowledge acquisition, cognitive development, the development of academic skills, satisfaction with the institution, and persistence in college (Kuh, 1995; Kuh & Hu, 2001; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1977; Terenzini, Pascarella, & Blimling, 1996; Terenzini, Theophilides, & Lorang, 1984; Volkwein, King, & Terenzini, 1986). As a result, several researchers have suggested that educational institutions should promote such contact (Kuh, 1995; Terenzini et al., 1996). However, Volkwein et al. (1986) found that informal contacts without genuine concern for and interest in students have little intellectual impact.

We hypothesized that the same would be true at the graduate level, and that a caring attitude would be reflected in the mode of address. Specifically, we explored the hypothesis that graduate students who addressed faculty by first name rather than formal title would be more likely to perceive faculty as warm and supportive.

Method

Participants

Twenty-six graduate students enrolled in various psychology masters and doctoral programs at two Midwestern public universities participated. At one university only 8 students addressed faculty by first name, and this limited the number of students who could compare interactions with faculty addressed by first name to faculty addressed by formal title. As a result, a second university was contacted to increase the number of participants in the study.

Procedure and Measures

We put a questionnaire in the mailboxes of students who had a mailbox and distributed questionnaires in classes frequently taken by other graduate students. Each participant anonymously and voluntarily filled out a questionnaire and put it in the first author's mailbox or, at the second university, in the department head's mailbox.

With respect to faculty addressed by first name, participants rated nine statements on a 5-point Likert scale anchored by strongly agree, scored as 4, and strongly disagree, scored as 0. Participants rated the same statements with respect to faculty they addressed by title. About half of the items were stated in the negative to avoid response bias. To measure two aspects of the relationship between faculty and student, we added items together. Perceived "value and respect" that faculty show students consisted of the mean of four items: the faculty member treats the student like a colleague, values the student's opinions, and reverse scored, is condescending, and assigns drudge work to the student. Perceived "warmth and approachability" of faculty members consisted of the mean of the following five items: the faculty member is warm, helpful, and reverse scored, is unlikely to help with personal problems, the student does not feel free to approach the faculty member at any time, and the student and professor do not have a close relationship.

Other questions asked about the level of student motivation, student respect for professors, objectivity in grading, and age and gender similarities to the professor. Participants were asked to rank the top three prerequisites for using first names with faculty from a list we provided, and we asked 14 faculty to do the same. Each participant also provided demographic information.

Results

We compared the students' evaluations of the two conditions (faculty addressed by first name vs. by formal title); see Table 1. A repeated measures ANOVA showed that students perceived faculty members addressed by first name as higher in "warmth and approachability", F(1, 25) = 11. …

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