Academic ranks (United States)
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- For ranks and types of professors, see Professors in the United States
Academic ranks in the United States are the titles, relative importance and power, of professorships held in academia.
Most common hierarchy
For regular faculty (not counting administrative positions such as chairmanships or deanships), the descending hierarchy in most cases is:
- Distinguished and/or Endowed Professor (Other such titles of special distinction vary by institution)
- Professor ("Full Professor," i.e. upon exhausting all normally-expected promotions)
- Associate Professor (On-Track to be a "Full Professor")
- Assistant Professor (On-Track to be an "Associate Professor")
- Clinical Professor, Instructor, Lecturer, Research Associate, and Research Professor (non-tenure track positions)
- Adjunct Professor or other faculty rank (for part-time faculty)
Traditionally, Assistant Professor has been the usual entry-level rank for faculty on the "tenure track", although this depends on the institution and the field. Then, promotion to the rank of Associate Professor usually indicates that a tenure-track professor has been granted tenure at the institution. Those hired as Assistant Professors on a traditional tenure track will usually attain the rank of Associate after six to a maximum of eight years, or their employment will be terminated at most universities. It is usually another six to ten years before an Associate Professor can be considered for promotion to full Professor.
Faculty of professional fields such as law, medicine, business, or engineering also can include ranks of "Clinical Professor" or "Professor of Practice," which are traditionally not tenure-track, and tend to emphasize practical skill training rather than scholarly research. Likewise for the less-common class of "Teaching Professor," which can also apply to non-professional fields. Recently, some institutions have created separate tenure-tracks for such positions.
Other faculty who are not on the tenure track in the U.S. are generally classified as Lecturers (Senior Lecturers or Research Associate) or Instructors, who may either teach full-time and/or have some administrative duties, but have no research obligations, or who may only have research obligations, but no teaching duties. Both Lecturers and Instructors may hold Masters degrees or Ph.D.s, and the term "professor" may be loosely applied to persons holding either of those positions; only the title of "Dr." is reserved exclusively for those who have already obtained doctoral degrees. In academic medicine, Instructor usually denotes someone with a PhD or MD who has completed residency, fellowship, or other postdoctoral training but who is not tenure-track faculty. Alternatively, the titles Instructor and Lecturer may be used as a placeholder for a pre-tenure-track employee who has not yet completed a doctorate; upon doing so, he/she is promoted to the typical starting point of "Assistant Professor." Any faculty title preceded with the qualifier "Adjunct" theoretically denotes part-time status (usually less than half-time). Adjunct faculty may have primary employment elsewhere (either another school or as a practicing professional), though many doctorate-holders are forced to cobble together a living from several adjunct jobs as "freeway flyers" (to the advantage of institutions, which do not have to pay for retirement and health benefits, and gain a workforce that can be shrunk as demand dictates). [Note that while "Professor" as a proper noun (with a capital "P") generally implies a position title, the common noun "professor" in the US appropriately describes anyone teaching at the college level, regardless of rank; also, as a prenominal title of address, it can be capitalized without implying the title rank.]
Although "Professor" is often the highest rank attained by a senior faculty member, some institutions may offer some unique title to a senior faculty member whose research or publications have achieved wide recognition. This is most often a "named chair": for example, the "John Doe Professor of Philosophy". Named chairs typically but not exclusively include a small discretionary fund from an endowment set aside for the chair's use. Large research universities also offer a small fraction of tenured faculty the title of "Distinguished Professor" to recognize outstanding and broad contributions to the advancement of a field of study. The most prestigious academic appointment is the University or Institute Professor. Such faculty members are not usually answerable to deans or department heads and may directly report to the University Provost.
In research, faculty who direct a lab or research group (1 to 30+ people) can be called Principal Investigator, or PI, though this refers to the management role and is not usually thought as an academic rank.
Excepting special ranks (such as endowed chairs), academic rank is dependent upon the promotion process of each college or university. Thus, a tenured associate professor at one institution might accept a lower ranking position at another university (i.e., an assistant professorship on the "tenure track"). In some cases, an assistant professor who accepts a position of similar rank at another university may negotiate "time towards tenure", which indicates a shorter probationary period, usually in recognition of prior academic achievements.
Temporary faculty and special appointments
Adjunct Associate Professor
Adjunct Assistant Professor
|Indicates a part-time or temporary appointment; also may denote a faculty member from another academic department whose research or teaching interests overlap substantially with those of the appointing department; may also denote basis of instructorship from professional experience rather than academic study, e.g. a retired engineer whose second career is teaching may be an adjunct professor of engineering.|
Visiting Associate Professor
Visiting Assistant Professor
|Almost always indicates a temporary appointment, often to fill a vacancy that has arisen due to the sabbatical or temporary absence of a regular faculty member.|
|Research||Research Professor (Senior Research Associate or Senior Research Scientist)
Research Associate Professor (Research Associate or Research Scientist)
Research Assistant Professor (Associate Research Scientist or Assistant Researcher)
|Indicates a full-time research position with few or no teaching responsibilities. Research professorships are almost always funded by grants or fellowships apart from the regular university budget; Instructors may be funded by either grants or the university.|
Clinical Associate Professor
Clinical Assistant Professor
|Indicates a full- or part-time non-tenured teaching position with limited research responsibilities, especially in the health science but also in law, business, and engineering; e.g. teaching students or residents, either in their office or on campus, with a minimum of 50–75 hours per year. At a law school, "clinical" professors may have highly variable teaching and research responsibilities, but generally supervise student pro bono law practice.|
Associate Professor Emeritus
Assistant Professor Emeritus
|Indicates a retired faculty member, who is usually not paid a regular salary but often retains office space and access to the university's facilities.|
The ranks of Lecturer and Senior Lecturer are used at some American universities to denote permanent teaching positions (full or part-time) with few or no research responsibilities.
Other teaching and research personnel
Fellowships and Research scientist positions are most often limited-term appointments for postdoctoral researchers. They are not usually regarded as faculty positions, although some teaching may be required. The definition of scientist position is vague, usually regarded as a technician, but in some cases advanced level after a postdoc. Rank of research personnel without a professor title is:
- Assistant or Junior Scientist
- Senior Scientist
- Research Scientist
- Senior Research Technician
- Research Assistant
- Postdoctoral Fellow
- Postdoctoral Research Fellow
- Postdoctoral Associate
- Postdoctoral Research Associate
Teaching assistants are typically graduate students who have varying levels of responsibility. A typical undergraduate class, for example, comprises lecture and small-group sessions, with a faculty member giving the lecture, and teaching assistants leading the small-group sessions; in other cases, the teaching of an entire class may be entrusted to a graduate student. (See generally A Handbook for Mathematics Teaching Assistants, published by the Mathematical Association of America.)
At most American universities, research technicians, lab managers, and related personnel are generally regarded as administrative staff rather than faculty.
At some universities, librarians have a rank structure parallel to that of the regular faculty (Assistant Librarian, Associate Librarian, Librarian). Some senior librarians, and often the head librarian, may have faculty or faculty-equivalent rank.
Officers of the corporation
- Chancellor or President
- Provost (sometimes called 'Chancellor', or 'President' or 'Warden')
- Associate Provost (rare)
- Assistant Provost (assists the Provost, as do any associates; not superior to vice presidents)
- Vice-Chancellors or Vice Presidents (of Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, Finance, etc.)
- Associate Vice-Chancellor or Associate Vice President
- Assistant Vice-Chancellor or Assistant Vice President
- Deans (often also Full Professors)
- Associate Deans (often also Full Professors)
- Assistant Dean
- Directors of Administrative Departments
- Associate/Assistant Directors of Administrative Departments
- Chairs or Heads of Academic Departments
America's system of higher education is highly variable, with each of the 50 states and the 6 non-state jurisdictions regulating its own public tertiary institutions, and with each private institution developing its own structure. In general, the terms "President" and "Chancellor" are interchangeable (like "Premier" and "Prime Minister"), including the vice presidents, associate and assistant vice presidents, and so on. The dominant paradigm is president, vice president, associate vice president, and assistant vice president.
Some university systems or multi-campus universities use both titles, with one title for the chief executive of the entire system and the other for the chief executives of each campus. Which title refers to which position can be highly variable from state to state or even within a state. In California, for example, the chief executive officer of the entire California State University system of 23 campuses is called "Chancellor" while the CEO of each individual campus is called "President" - so, there is an officer called "Chancellor of the California State University," and there is the "President of San Francisco State University." In the University of California, by contrast, the terms are reversed - so there is the "President of the University of California", and below that person in the hierarchy is the "Chancellor of the University of California, Los Angeles", and so on.
The term 'Warden' is almost never used in the United States in an academic sense. Where it is used, it typically means "provost" or "dean".
Deans may head an individual college, school or faculty; or they may be deans of the student body, or a section of it (e.g., the dean of students in a law school); or they may be deans of a particular functional unit (e.g., Dean of Admissions, or Dean of Records); or they may be deans of a particular campus, or (unusually) of a particular building (e.g., a university with an elaborate performing arts complex might designate a very senior administrative faculty member as "Dean of the [Name] Performing Arts Center."
Academic department heads and chairs serve the same function, and there may also be associate and assistant department heads or chairs (though this is unusual).
- Professors in the United States
- List of academic ranks
- Handbook of Faculty Titles by Michael I. Shamos, Ph.D., J.D., Carnegie Mellon University
- Academic Promotions, UCSF School of Medicine Association of Clinical Faculty. Retrieved 2009-08-01.