University Affairs magazine is one of the last print bastions of the polite honorific, such as Mr., Ms., and Dr., and this practice is carried through on our website. We don’t use an honorific with a person’s full name on first reference, but we do use it with the surname in second and subsequent references. So, in first reference, it is John Smith, professor of such-and-such, and in subsequent references, it is Dr. Smith.
Our use of the Dr. honorific dates back to a time when many university faculty members didn’t have PhDs, so the use of this term was a nod, in a sense, to the accomplishment of having earned a doctorate. We don’t want to give up honorifics, but we’ve been told by a few professors and academic administrators that they’d prefer to be called Professor, rather than Dr. on second reference. One of them explained that these days it’s easier to get a PhD than a professorship, and Professor means a lot more to him than acknowledging he has a terminal degree. (As well, but less important to us, many physicians feel the Dr. title should be reserved for those with a medical degree.)
Before we contemplate making the change, we’re canvassing our readers for their preference through the online poll below. It’s easy to use, and I’d be very grateful if you could take a moment to respond.
Addendum, Feb. 20, 2009: Our poll is now closed. Thanks for your votes. We have a winner: Dr. it is. More on the results Monday.