Professors everywhere!

Those who have been reading this blog for a while and and who are still persevering may recall that, just over a year ago, we discussed the question of whether the title ‘professor’ should be reserved for very senior academics with a world class research record only, or whether it should be the title given to all academics. In the American system, for example, pretty well all academics are ‘professors’, but the more junior ones are ‘assistant’ or ‘associate’ professors.

However, in Australia this appears to have been taken even further. According to a recent report, some Australian universities are now conferring the title of professor on senior university administrators. One university representative is quoted as saying that the title is being given to senior university officers ‘to denote management seniority and authority’. As readers of this blog know, I do have considerable respect for university administrators, who often have a very thankless job and who get very little recognition. But the whole point of the title of professor is to recognise scholarly achievement.

On the other hand, perhaps I’m wrong. In fact, maybe we need to go further. As we continue to cut resources for higher education and thus call into question quality and standards – and so the idea of the knowledge society – perhaps we can overcome the visible effects simply by giving everyone in the country the rank of professor. It would show a pleasing level of national status consciousness and erudition, and would allow us at the same time to increase civility and courteousness as people get used to addressing each other in this way. And the ultimate penalty for wrongdoing could be the withdrawal of the title, which would be much more effective than a prison sentence. I think this idea has great potential.

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14 Comments on “Professors everywhere!”

  1. wendymr Says:

    But if everyone was a professor, who would do the teaching?

  2. Vincent Says:

    Hmmm, is a Professorship a Rank ?. Doesn’t that word imply something given ?. I would have aimed for something innate and recognisable.

    Even today, and with most of them retired, I address those brilliant people that were directly involved when I was at NUI,Galway, Professor. But I do not use that word with anyone else.
    Put it this way, Dr. So-and-so holds the position of Professor of this or that. While Professor So-and-so lectured to us. But again, not all who lecture are named Professor.

  3. Jilly Says:

    Or maybe we could use our ‘German’ titles. I’ve always rather fancied being addressed as ‘Frau Doktor Professor’…

    • Perry Share Says:

      back in my uni days I recall my mother explaining to a student colleague of mine how German academics reveled in their title of Herr Doktor. I only realised later that the look of incredulity on his face was because he was getting his head around the notion of a nation of ‘hair doctors’!


  4. This method of avoiding pay restraint is not confined to universities. Note the increase in “directors”.

  5. kevin denny Says:

    I think we should try move to the American system because, whether we like it or not, thats the dominant system. Its catching on elsewhere. I tell people here in the US I’m a professor because if I said I was a senior lecturer that means something else (a teaching only graded).
    A snag is that our system, CL,SL,Assoc Prof,Prof doesn’t map neatly into the American system as we dont have tenure track system. So our CL’s are not the equivalent to Assistant Profs.

    • Jilly Says:

      I assume that by CL you mean Contract Lecturer, Kevin? They’re not the only kind though – there are permanent lecturers too.

      I’ve also had the US/Ireland title-confusion. In one instance, the organisers of an event in the US changed the biog I’d submitted to describe me as a Professor (clearly to get round the fact that most of the audience would have misunderstood the title of Lecturer). But of course my colleagues here in Ireland saw the advertising literature describing me as a Professor and got a lot of entertainment out of it…it was funny, but also slightly embarrassing…

      • kevin denny Says:

        I meant college lecturer Jilly. Yes confusion abounds. We don’t have to follow the American system slavishly.We can’t as we simply have more grades. German universities use “Junior professor” for example.

  6. Perry Share Says:

    The Presidents of at least 3 of the IoTs refer to themselves as Professor 🙂

    • Jilly Says:

      Oh, the shame! Go on then, name them…

      • Perry Share Says:

        if you drew a straight line NW to SE through the country you’d catch all of them


      • As far as I know they are the Presidents of Waterford IT, Athlone IT and Sligo IT. The latter two are, I think, tracing their professorships to the University of Ulster, where they both worked at one point – I presume UU has continued to keep them ‘on the books’ in some way to allow them to use the title. I don’t know the circumstances of Waterford.


  7. Personally the ‘lecturer/assistant professor’ title problem doesn’t bother me–I think the old school system of a senior academic getting a chair and the title of Prof, as well as the hassle of being the HOD, and the money, etc, works perfectly well. The US system devalues the title by giving it to everyone, and giving it to administrators, however talented, is just bonkers–perhaps its managerialism gone mad?

  8. cormac Says:

    I’m with Stephen -why devalue the title? It’s very important for academics (and other humans) to have some sort of career progress to aspire to. Many excellent academics who taught me in UCD were very active in research, but did not get that far – that’s hard, but makes the rank desirable.

    In WIT, we floated the idea of nominal professorships for our very best researchers, in order to encourage research. The union immediately shot it down by designating every member of staff a professor (“every man and womnan is equal”). I though it was a pity to quash an attempt to give some encouragement to staff who work above and beyond the call of duty in the IoT sector


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