The life of a Professor
Exactly 19 years ago this month, at the age of 35, I was appointed to the post of Professor of Law at the University of Hull, England. At the time I believe I was the youngest professor of law in the United Kingdom. It probably won’t be very far into the future before anyone appointed to a professorship in a UK university at the age of 35 would be seen as rather old; in fact, it is likely that there will be academics calling themselves ‘Professor’ in their mid-20s very soon.
The reason for this is that, for the past little while, some British universities have considered calling all permanent academics ‘Professor’. The first university to go down this road was the University of Warwick: since 2007 the entry-level permanent academic appointment there is ‘Assistant Professor’, from which you can be promoted to ‘Associate Professor’ and then ‘Professor’. And over recent months Oxford University has been contemplating something similar; and if that happens, there will probably be a stampede as all British universities adopt this model.
The academic profession is perhaps the most hierarchical and status conscious of any. The rank of professor has long been seen as the ultimate accolade, and as such one that is granted to only very few academics. It is possible that lecturers have been looking enviously at American higher education (where the Warwick framework has been the norm for a long time), or perhaps some continental European systems.
So what are we to make of this possible British trend, and should it catch on in Ireland? On the whole, I don’t have a big problem with it. For many in the general public, the term ‘professor’ is a generic one describing someone working as an academic in a university; so why not let reality follow suit? Also, allowing everyone to be a professor may help to soften up the excessively hierarchical system a little. We would still have a framework to reward excellence – a full professor would be in the same group as exists now – but the rank would be less visible. But if it happened, it should happen in all universities at once;, to avoid the appearance or reality of discrimination between institutions.
Maybe I’ll start taking soundings.Explore posts in the same categories: university comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.