The answer is that many women, especially women of color, women with non-traditional bodies, women who are young, women who are middle0aged, women who are old, women who speak with an accent, and gender non-conforming folks, to name a few, don’t have the privilege of being presumed to be authoritative and competent.
From the Twitter feed of Dr. Sarah T. Romano (@STRomanoPhD) (Political Science and Global Studies, Lesley University), this syllabus message to students:
Course Policies and University Resources/Services:
What do I call my instructor? Across your classes at Lesley University, the most respectful way to address your instructor in class, over email, or in other interactions is as “Professor _____” or “Dr. ____.” This is because most of your instructors have earned their doctorates, or PhDs, in their fields. Some faculty may have Masters (MA) degrees and are working on completing their PhDs. If you are unsure if your instructor has a PhD, “Professor” is a safe bet! If your instructor invites you to call them by their first name, then of course you may do so.
In law schools, many (most) professors do not have PhDs, so “Professor” is a super-safe bet. If the instructor is an adjunct, a student cannot go *wrong* calling the adjunct “Professor” (different schools do/do not permit adjuncts to use that title). If the school’s adjuncts do not use the title, the adjunct can simply say, “Oh, it’s simply Mr./Ms. ____.” Years ago, I remember when tax instructor Meade Emory, adjunct extraordinaire, said we were free to call him “Meade” after graduation. But until then, “Mr. Emory” would do.
My general thought is that when in doubt, one should always choose the more respectful title. But then again, I’m 50 years old and I still refer to some friends of my parents (and parents of childhood friends) as “Mr. ____” and “Mrs. ____.” So I’m old-fashioned like that.
As for my own (now college-aged) child, the general norm in our community was that teachers went by “Mr. ___” and “Ms. ____,” but friends’ parents were always on a first-name basis. So the universe of people who will call me “Ms. Crawford” in the coming decades is probably limited to those people with whom I went to law school, but we weren’t close enough that we ever learned each others’ first names. Or my first year law professors.
Professor Bruce Mann, I knew it was you on the phone from the way you said, “Ms. Crawford”!