Wednesday, June 05, 2013

what "Professor" means

I mentioned it before, but never clarified what I meant when I said that, in the eyes of the South Korean government, I was going to be a professor. Typically, when I think of a college professor, I automatically imagine someone with a Ph.D. To call someone "Professor So-and-so" is the equivalent of calling that person "Doctor So-and-so." But in its strictest sense, the word "professor" does not imply that the holder of that title has a doctorate. One of my best childhood friends had a dad who worked as a graphic-design professor at George Washington University despite holding only a Master's degree.

Some years back, according to Tom's buddy Angelo, the Korean government decided that all university teachers merited the title "professor." This meant that no university teacher would ever be known as kangsa (instructor) again: from now on, the members of that exclusive club would be called gyosu, i.e., professors. This went doubly for teachers on an E-1 visa, which is the visa for college profs—and my visa as well, come August.

I have my moments of insecurity as I think about this situation. Technically, I will be addressed as gyosu-nim (Honorable Professor) in formal conversation. My Korean colleagues in the office will, of course, address me as seonsaeng-nim (Honorable Teacher) or merely as ssaem (the slangy, Net-speak contraction of seonsaeng-nim). I doubt my Western colleagues will even bother using a title when addressing me; to them, I'll just be "Kevin." But being known, officially, as gyosu-nim makes me feel as if I haven't really earned my title. I'm reminded of Anakin Skywalker in "Revenge of the Sith"—that moment when he's been promoted by Chancellor Palpatine to the Jedi Council, but has not been granted the title of Jedi Master because he hasn't made his bones.

All the same, when late August rolls around, I'll be able to refer to myself as "a university professor" without lying, all thanks to the Korean government's generous reworking of the academic nomenclature.



Sperwer said...

The most erudite and best teacher I had in University never got more than a BA. That didn't stop him from publishing an important book - as distinct from a piece of tenure requirement dross - and winning the University-wide teaching award several times during his career at an Ivy League school. Of course that would never happen today ...

Elisson said...

I am so happy for you - was out of pocket last week and now see that you scored the position at CUD (now, there's something to chew on!)

Good luck in your new life - back to South Korea with you! - and may you continue to go from strength to strength.