« How many cheers for the GOP? (Updated) | Main | The Inconsistency of Chief Justice Chase »

Thursday, December 03, 2020

Identify yourself as an academic

The New York Times questions Jenna Ellis' credentials as a lawyer (I am shocked, shocked to find they are not what she plays them to be), including how she came to call herself a "constitutional law attorney" and a "professor of constitutional law." Colorado Christian University, where she taught in an undergraduate legal-studies program as an adjunct and as full-time professor, says she never held the latter title.

But that got me wondering: How many of you use the subjects in which you write/teach in your title for purposes of self-identification, web sites, media, etc.? And how common is it for academics to do that? I identify myself as a professor of law, not a professor of civil procedure. Frankly, I become suspicious when I see "professor of [subject]" in a person's title on a web site or LinkedIn page, a sign that the person is trying too hard.

Am I being too harsh?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 3, 2020 at 05:37 PM in Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink


Agreed on "trying too hard." Over-promoting one's titles is a low-status move, though perhaps not as much as Ph.D.s and J.D.s who insist on a "Dr." honorific.

Posted by: BMS | Dec 22, 2020 5:46:41 PM

also in the United States everyone who has ever taught a course is called a professor, while in Europe and Israel and Asia, the title professor is a rank and earned through your specific career as a scholar.

Posted by: Orly Lobel | Dec 7, 2020 1:25:22 AM

Before I received my most recent chair: Warren Distinguished Professor (which is the name of the chair but I always feel a bit odd calling myself distinguished...) I was the Don Weckstein Professor of Employment and Labor Law. I felt that it was on the one hand reflective of a field I am immersed in, but on the other hand limiting and implying it's all I am an expert in; I prefer my current named chair that doesn't have a field attached...

Posted by: Orly Lobel | Dec 7, 2020 1:23:57 AM

This raises another issue: adjuncts identifying as professors to the media. In our field (unlike in many others), adjuncts normally have a day job and teach one or two courses for fun once in a while. I often see lawyers exploiting this to enhance their credibility or even to get clients.

Posted by: Anon | Dec 6, 2020 10:15:36 AM

I dunno. Identifying yourself as an expert in a certain area of the law also implies that you are not an expert, and unqualified to comment as an expert, in other areas of the law, so such self-identification is inherently limiting. To take President Obama, for example, he apparently taught Constitutional Law and so might claim expertise in that area, but he wasn't qualified as an expert on administrative law or criminal procedure.

Posted by: Douglas B. Levene | Dec 5, 2020 4:10:31 PM

Got it. I admire your position. At a minimum, I think it happens routinely by two-step, where the reporter uses a label like "constitutional law professor" and it happens often enough that the law professor knows it happens and could ask only to be identified as someone who teaches constitutional law or whatever, or where the professor accepts the short-hand version in a cutline on an op-ed. I'm not sure I haven't been in that position, for better or worse. (A related but separate question, of course, is when law professors should decline such media inquiries on the grounds that they may teach the subject and are more expert than most but don't really have a specific scholarly or teaching focus on the subject they're being asked about.)

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Dec 4, 2020 1:41:20 PM

Paul: What you say goes to the crux of my question. I don't do that--I have news stories identify me as a professor of law, without mention of subjects. Occasionally the reporter will ask for specifics and include it as an addition clause ("where he teaches and writes in federal courts" or whatever). I was curious how other profs identified themselves.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Dec 4, 2020 1:34:47 PM

Questions of particular accuracy aside, is this qualitatively different from a professor who teaches a subject (with or without anything besides a teaching expertise in the subject) who allows him- or herself to be identified in a news story as a "professor of constitutional law" or what have you, knows that it happens all the time, and goes happily along with it? Don't law professors go along all the time with signing amicus briefs that describe them as constitutional law professors, op-eds whose bio lines read "X is a professor of constitutional law at Y school," and so on? To be sure, it would be nicer if those briefs had a line in the description of the amici that said "Amici teach constitutional law; a subset of the signers write about it as well, and a still smaller number are actually expert in the particular subject of this brief." But so far as I know they generally don't.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Dec 4, 2020 1:28:44 PM

It's all in the capitals. One might be "Associate Professor of Law" and "a professor of property law" or whatever. I think President Obama could accurately have been called a "professor of constitutional law."

Posted by: Jack | Dec 4, 2020 12:33:45 PM

I think all this stress over titles is a bit silly. If someone who specializes in a thing wants to attach a label reflecting their specialization to their description of their job, more power to them. I, personally, don't really specialize in anything at all and am half tempted to spitefully call myself Professor of the Gestalt or Professor of 42. As for Ellis, she can call herself Marie of Romania if she wants, so long as she stops trying to light democracy and the legal system on fire.

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Dec 4, 2020 9:52:10 AM

I think some chair titles include that, but even then, I doubt holders of those chairs introduce themselves that way unless using the formal title.

Posted by: Michael Risch | Dec 3, 2020 9:00:36 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.