What is in a name?

Krantz, in his informative and entertaining book, How to teach mathematics tells about the teaching style of Riesz:

An extreme example of a teaching style that is virtually orthogonal to what we Americans know is the one that has been attributed to the celebrated Hungarian analyst F. Riesz. He would come to class accompanied by an Assistant Professor and an Associate Professor. The Associate Professor would read Riesz’s famous text aloud to the class. The Assistant Professor would write the words on the blackboard. Riesz would stand front and center with his hands clasped behind his back and nod sagely.

In most of the educational institutions today, Assistant and Associate Professors might not render the same services that Riesz’ assistants and associates rendered him; however, the appellations remain; and very recently, one of my friends was complaining against them; I now see that FSP also has objections to these titles:

Let’s do away with the existing adjectives used to describe the professorial ranks. These terms are inaccurate, somewhat annoying, and they do not inspire confidence in our non-academic friends and relations. We need more awe-inspiring adjectives.

Even once you become a Professor (as in, a so-called “full” professor, although “full” is not technically part of the title) and you lose the demeaning adjectives, all is not perfect. When people ask me my title and I say “Professor”, I am then asked “What kind of professor? Do you have tenure?”, as if I am leaving out some information by not including any adjective. In some situations I am reluctant to say “full professor” because I am quite tired of the “full of what?” question that inevitably follows. We all need better adjectives.

FSP is even running a poll:

As you may have seen, there is a new poll in the sidebar to the right. The poll will be live for a week. I suppose I can add to it if any new exciting nominations are made. The perceptive reader will note, on reading the poll list, that I have failed to come up with a serious list of viable alternatives, but went ahead with the poll anyway for its entertainment value (such as it is).

As I have been discussing this week (and a few other random times in the past), the motivation for this effort is the unsatisfactory nature of the current terms for professorial ranks. “Assistant Professor” is particularly annoying and kind of demeaning as a term, and “Associate Professor” isn’t much better.

Take a look and have fun — don’t foget to take a look at the comments!

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