A Pocket Guide to Academic Ranks
“When I look at job titles in academic affairs, I have no idea what they mean.”
While job titles in most higher education divisions appear straightforward, Academic Affairs structures their job titles based on contractual obligations, scope of duties, qualifications, and a well-defined system of success thresholds. Each institution’s faculty handbook defines faculty rank by process and criteria.
The two sections below – faculty and administrators – provide a general overview of the titles used. Individual institutions may differ and have greater nuances. The list begins with the most junior position and ends with the most senior position in each group.
Teaching Assistants or Graduates (TA or GA) are graduate students hired to support the work of faculty on a temporary, part-time basis. Typically, teaching assistants teach introductory classes, labs, or study sessions. Teaching assistants may or may not have gradebook-related responsibilities (ability to assign a student’s final grade). They can also grade articles for faculty members. GAs generally help professors conduct research.
Auxiliary faculty members are temporary part-time employees, paid per course and hired to teach one or more courses semester by semester. Institutions use auxiliaries to fill in when a class is oversubscribed or if a department has a temporary need. Adjunct faculty members may or may not have a terminal degree – the highest possible degree in a discipline. Most terminal degrees are doctorates, but there are exceptions, such as with studio art, where the highest degree is an MFA.
Speakers may be permanent or temporary employees hired to teach multiple courses per school year. Sometimes they have a teaching load similar to that of an individual in the academic ranks. A teaching load is the number of courses taught per year by full-time faculty members and varies by institution. An example is a 3-3 load, which means that three courses are taught each semester. Some institutions limit the number of years an individual can be a lecturer. In many cases, a lecturer does not have a terminal degree, may have recently completed a terminal degree, or is someone from outside academia hired for their specific expertise.
Sometimes additional descriptors such as “senior” or “visitor” are used. A lecturer has a higher rank than a senior lecturer, has more experience, and receives a higher level of pay. The use of the word “visit” is equivalent to indicating a limited duration of service. The “visit” can also be used in conjunction with professorships.
There are three levels of pulpits—assistant, associate and (tenured) professor. Each is a permanent full-time employee who holds a terminal degree. Typically, professors have a 10-month contract with summers to use as fellowship time. A professorship can be tenure-track or non-tenure-track. Seniority represents the fact that an individual has met the institution’s standards for permanent employment. The tenure and promotion process typically includes a series of seven to 10+ year appraisals and formal documentation of service, teaching, and scholarship achievements.
Once a professor is tenured, a process called post-tenure review also takes place several years later (usually five years +/-). The purpose of the post-employment review is to determine promotion and salary, awards and grants, and special appointments. This is a faculty development mechanism, not a mechanism to remove tenured status. Disciplinary procedures guide the revocation of tenure and specify the causes of dismissal. More information can be found here.
Some people may skip this process if they have been tenured at another institution or have a record of outstanding achievement. Chairs exist in both degree-granting and non-degree-granting university departments. Libraries and museums are examples of non-degree-granting university departments.
Upon retirement, faculty may receive emeritus/emeritus or honorary status. The faculty handbook or board policy outlines the criteria for awarding the award and its privileges (e.g., voting rights in the faculty senate, continued use of an office and library, participation to the thesis committee).
Faculty members are grouped into departments by discipline. They report to department president (also chair). The chair is a faculty member who also serves as the department’s administrator. They are responsible for creating the department’s course schedule and teaching assignments, evaluating faculty, facilitating tenure and promotion, ensuring compliance with policies and procedures, and overseeing its budget. Typically, presidents receive an allowance for additional duties and have a reduced teaching load to allow time for these duties. The president reports to the dean.
Academic administrators usually hold the rank of professor and are often tenured. They have 12 month contracts and can teach on occasion. After serving as administrators, incumbents can return to the classroom as teachers.
In academic affairs, directors are most often responsible for after-school programs. Examples might include a museum, an archeology field school, a community audiology clinic, and a study abroad program.
Assistant or Associate Deans support the Dean’s office by handling specific initiatives or tasks. Assistant deans can be considered staff positions. Associate deans hold professorial rank and are released from some or all teaching duties.
deans are responsible for specific academic areas and have titles to indicate which area they serve, such as Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, etc. (Also note: there are sometimes deans in student life and on campus, but they rank.) The primary role of the dean is to ensure the smooth running of academic program delivery. Deans report to the Provost.
Deputy or associate provosts (also Vice-Rectors) work on specific initiatives in the Provost’s Office. An example is a vice-rector for faculty affairs. Their job would be to support faculty development, leadership training, tenure and promotion, and other personnel matters.
the provost is the chief administrator of the academic division and often carries the additional title of vice president for academic affairs or executive vice president. Some smaller schools may title the position “provost and dean of faculty.” The word “provost” is thought to have military origins and means “chief” or “one who keeps order”. Hence, the position is also referred to as Director of Studies. The provost is most often considered the institution’s second-in-command and takes command in the president’s absence.