If you’re like us, you’ve spent hours of valuable registration appointment time agonizing over whether to take a class with a visiting associate professor or an adjunct assistant.  What do these titles actually mean?  Bwog’s expert on esoteric distinctions, Jon Edelman, breaks it down.

According to the faculty handbook, there are twenty-three possible titles for the Arts and Sciences faculty, not counting the over 500 named professorships that go to members of “unusual academic distinction.”

At the bottom of the tenure track are Instructors, doctoral candidates who will become Assistant Professors when they complete their Ph.Ds.  After roughly six years of original scholarship, good teaching (as measured by course evaluations), and service to the department (working on committees and such), Assistant Professors can be granted tenure by the already-tenured members of the department and become Associate Professors.  Usually, if they publish enough, they’ll go on to become full Professors. Professors with “exceptional scholarly merit of the highest distinction and extended service to the university” can be appointed University Professors by the trustees.  Only eight professors can hold this title at once, unless one of them is seventy, in which case an exception is made in anticipation of his or her retirement.

Adjuncts, on the other hand, have it rougher.  Although there are Assistant, Associate and full adjunct Professors, and many are very accomplished, their positions can be terminated at will.  The wages are lower, and the work is part-time.  Many adjuncts hope  to get picked up for tenure-track jobs, but it doesn’t often happen unless they write a major book. There are also assorted Lecturers (both part and full-time), Professors of Professional Practice (for the grad schools) and visiting faculty from other schools, who also have Assistant/Associate/Full distinctions.  Does any of this mean anything about how good your professors will be?  Who knows?  In the meantime, we recommend sticking with CULPA.

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