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Professors in the United States

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Professors in the United States

In the U.S., "professors" commonly occupy any of several positions in academia, typically the ranks of assistant professor, associate professor, or professor. The same terms are used outside the U.S., although they often denote different roles from in the U.S. system. However, the majority of university lecturers and instructors in the United States today (2015) do not occupy these tenure-track ranks, but are part-time adjuncts.

Research and education are among the main tasks of non-adjunct professors, with the amount of time spent on research or teaching depending strongly on the type of institution. Publication of articles in conferences, journals, and books is essential to occupational advancement.[1] As of August 2007 teaching in tertiary educational institutions is one of the fastest growing occupations, topping the U.S. Department of Labor's list of "above average wages and high projected growth occupations," with a projected increase of 524,000 positions between 2004 and 2014.[2] In 2011, a survey conducted by TIAA-CREF Institute senior researcher Paul J. Yakoboski estimated that 73% of professors with senior tenure ranged between the ages of 60 and 66 and that the remaining 27% were above the age of 66.[3] Yakoboski estimated that 75% of these professors have acknowledged that they have made no preparations for retirement due to the ongoing financial crisis and reluctance to leave their profession. [3] A 2013 survey conducted by Fidelity Investments would echo similar results when the question about retirement came up.[4]


The term "professors" in the United States refers to a group of educators at the college and university level. In the United States, while "Professor" as a proper noun (with a capital "P") generally implies a position title officially bestowed by a university or college to faculty members with a PhD or the highest level terminal degree in a non-academic field (e.g. MFA), the common noun "professor" is often used casually to refer to anyone teaching at the college level, regardless of rank or degree. At some junior colleges without a formal ranking system, instructors are accorded the courtesy title of "professor."

Tenured and tenure-track positions

These full-time faculty members with PhDs or other highest level terminal degrees (designated as acceptable by a university or college), engage in both undergraduate and graduate teaching, mentoring, research, and service. Only faculty in these positions are eligible for tenure.

  • Assistant professor: An introductory level professor. A position generally taken after receiving a PhD and often, especially in the sciences, completing a post-doctoral fellowship. After 7 years, in most American colleges and universities, a tenure-track faculty member (usually assistant professor) must be either awarded tenure, or dismissed from the university.
  • Associate professor: A mid-level, usually tenured, professor.
  • Professor (sometimes referred to as "full professor"): a senior, tenured professor.
  • Distinguished professor or endowed chair (e.g., "the Brian S. Smith Professor of Physics"): An honorary position in which a full professor's salary may be increased, perhaps by being tied to an endowment derived from the university, private individuals, firms, or foundations.

The top administrative post in many academic departments is the "department chair." Prior to the 1970s, such administrators were called "chairmen" or "chairwomen," but the term in most institutions has since been shortened to the gender-neutral "chair." While many department chairs also hold endowed chair positions, the two positions are distinct.

Educators who hold a formal title of "Professor" (referred to as tenured/tenure-track faculty) typically begin their careers as assistant professors, (or "lecturers" and "senior lecturers") with subsequent promotions to the ranks of associate professor and finally professor. The titles are historical traditions; for example, it is not implied that an assistant professor "assists" more senior faculty. There is often a strict timeline for application for promotion from assistant to associate professor, most often 5 or 6 years following the initial appointment. Applicants are evaluated based on their contributions to research, teaching, and administration. The relative weightings of these contributions differ by institution, with PhD-granting universities usually placing more emphasis on research and liberal arts colleges placing more emphasis on teaching. The decision to grant tenure and promotion from assistant to associate professor usually requires numerous levels of approval, with a common sequence being:

  1. external reviewers—several nationally or internationally prominent academics in the candidate's field will be asked to review the candidate's application for promotion and submit a confidential report;
  2. based on this report and evidence of the candidate's accomplishments in his or her curriculum vitae, a committee of members from the candidate's department will make a recommendation for tenure/promotion or denial of such;
  3. the department will vote;
  4. the department decision is communicated to a university panel of individuals from outside of the department who evaluate the application and decide whether they agree or disagree with the departmental recommendation;
  5. the dean;
  6. the board of governors/president or other upper level governing body.

A decision to reject a candidate for tenure normally requires that the individual leave the institution within two years (under the AAUP tenure guidelines). Otherwise, tenure is granted along with promotion from assistant to associate professor. Although tenure and promotion are usually separate decisions, they are often highly correlated such that a decision to grant a promotion coincides with a decision in favor of tenure, and vice versa. Promotion to associate professor usually results in an increased administrative load and membership on committees that are restricted to tenured faculty.

Some people remain at the level of associate professor throughout their careers. However, most will apply for the final promotion to full professor; the timeline for making this application is more flexible than that for assistant to associate positions and the associate professor does not normally lose his/her job if the application is rejected. As with promotion from assistant to associate professor, promotion from associate to full professor involves review at multiple levels, similar to the earlier tenure/promotion review. This includes external reviews, decisions by the department, recommendations by members of other departments, and high-ranking university officials. Usually, this final promotion requires that the individual has maintained an active research program, and excellent teaching, in addition to taking a leadership role in important departmental and extra-departmental administrative tasks. Full professor is the highest rank that a professor can achieve (other than in a named position) and is seldom achieved before a person reaches their mid-40s. The rank of full professor carries additional administrative responsibilities associated with membership on committees that are restricted to full professors.

Two-year community colleges that award tenure often use the "professor" ranking system as well. Candidates for tenure at those institutions would not normally need to hold a PhD, only the degree necessary (usually a master's) for employment as an instructor.

Non-tenure-track positions

Individuals in these positions typically (though not always) focus on teaching undergraduate courses, do not engage in research (except in the case of "research professors"), may or may not have administrative or service roles, and sometimes are eligible for job security that is less strong than tenure. They may still be referred to casually as "professor" and be described by the common-noun "professor," whether or not they officially designated that position title by the university or college. Likewise, the term "instructor" is very generic and can be applied to any teacher, or it can be a specific title (tenure or tenure-track) depending upon how an institution chooses to use the term.

  • Professors of the Practice, and Professors of Professional Practice: have commonly been reserved for practitioners who are appointed because of skills and expertise acquired in nonacademic careers and whose primary focus is teaching. This designation is bestowed on individuals who have achieved a distinguished career in a specific field of practice (engineering, management, business, law, medicine, architecture etc.), and will have a substantial basis of experience equal to a tenured professor (normally a minimum of 12 years) and a national/international reputation for excellence reflected in a record of significant accomplishments. Such appointments are also being offered to individuals with academic career backgrounds. These latter professors of practice are principally engaged in teaching and are not expected to be significantly involved in research activities.
  • Teaching assistant (TA), graduate teaching assistant (GTA), course assistant (CA), teaching fellow (TF), or graduate student instructor (GSI): Positions typically held by graduate students. TAs play a supportive role involving grading, review sessions, and labs. Teaching fellows (and at some universities, TAs or GSIs) teach entire courses. In any event, these positions are notably not considered "faculty" positions, and never vote in faculty elections or serve on faculty committees, etc. even at institutions where part-time faculty may do so. Even their teaching is considered part of their training as students at the university.
  • Adjunct Faculty - professor/lecturer/instructional or sessional lecturer: Part-time, non-salaried, faculty members who are paid for each particular class they teach. Most adjunct faculty (adjuncts) are hired as a lecturer or instructor. Originally, the title adjunct professor usually involved professionals employed elsewhere full-time, or retired professional academics, and their teaching may have had a professional practice emphasis. Today (2015), adjunct professors, hired for their low cost only, rather than expertise, make up more than half the teaching faculty at United States universities.
  • Lecturer: A full-time or part-time position at a university that usually does not involve tenure or formal research obligations (although sometimes they choose to perform research), but can often involve administrative service roles. When in a regular, long-term salaried position of at least some minimal appointment level (e.g. half-time), it may include voting and other privileges.[5] This position often involves a focus on undergraduate and/or introductory courses, sometimes as a cost-savings measure due to the lower salaries compared to tenure-track positions. In some colleges, the term Senior Lecturer is used for highly qualified or accomplished lecturers. A convention some schools have begun to use is the title "teaching professor," with or without ranks, to clarify that these are in fact true faculty members who simply do not have research obligations.
  • Collegiate or teaching or clinical professor (with or without ranks): A recent title with many different variations, sometimes dependent upon rank, these instructors may hold parallel ranks as their tenure-track counterparts (i.e., teaching assistant professor, teaching associate professor, and (full) teaching professor) at institutions whose policy is to only provide "tenure" to those who do research. In professional fields where such positions typically involve a practical or skills-based emphasis (e.g. medicine, law, engineering), they may be titled as clinical professors, studio professors (in architecture and design), or industry professors (in fields such as engineering and technology).[6] A similar recent title that has come into use is "professor of practice."
  • Visiting professor (with or without ranks): (a) A temporary assistant/associate/full professor position (see above), e.g. to cover the teaching load of a faculty member on sabbatical. (b) A professor on leave who is invited to serve as a member of the faculty of another college or university for a limited period of time, often an academic year.
  • Research professor (with or without ranks): A position that usually carries only research duties with no obligation for teaching. Research professors usually have no salary commitment from their institution and must secure their salary from external funding sources such as grants and contracts. (These are often known as "soft money" positions.) Although research professor positions usually are not eligible to be awarded tenure, their ranks parallel those of tenure-track or analogously instructional-only positions - i.e., research assistant professor, research associate professor, and (full) research professor.

Retired faculty

Retired faculty may retain formal or informal links with their university, such as library privileges or office space. At some institutions faculty who have retired after achieving the rank of professor are given the title "professor emeritus" (male) or "professor emerita" (female).


Most professors in the U.S. are male,[7] liberal (in the contemporary American political sense),[8][9][10] and upper middle class.[11] A slight majority of professors ranked among the top 15% of wage earners, in 2005.[12]

According to a study by liberal, and registered Democrats commonly outnumber registered Republicans." However, this demographic tendency varies across departments.[8] A 2010 study by Gross and Fosse[13] found that the political persuasions of American professors had changed over the 20th century. In the 1800s professors were often clergymen and tended towards conservatism, gradually becoming more liberal with the Progressive Era and Great Depression. By the mid-20th century, the humanities and social sciences were dominated by liberal or Democratic professors, with Republicans or conservatives showing a slight majority in departments of business, agriculture and engineering. From the late 1970s to the mid 1980s there was a trend towards conservatism amongst professors (paralleling a national shift to the right with the "Reagan Revolution"): about 5% of professors identified themselves as strongly left-wing, about a third identifying themselves as liberals, about 25% identifying themselves as moderates, 25% as conservative, and 5% as strongly conservative. Since the 1980s, the percentage of liberal professors has grown steadily, with nationwide research consistently finding somewhere between 7 to 9 liberals for each professor of another political persuasion.

In terms of education, the vast majority of professors hold doctorate degrees. Professors at community colleges may only have a master's degree while those at four-year institutions are often required to hold a doctorate or other terminal degree.[1] To some extent this is a result of "credential creep": why hire someone without a doctorate, since there are so many applicants with one? Older faculty, hired when doctorates were less common, are less likely to hold the degree.

Tenure-track faculty ranks

Although the term "professor" is often used to refer to any college or university teacher, there are different 'tiers' of professorship ranging from an entry level position as an "assistant professor" to "full professor," a rank reserved for professors who have established themselves as experts within their academic fields. Contrary to some beliefs, assistant professors, associate professors, and full professors are all, in fact, technically professors. Usually students who have completed their doctoral studies seek positions as assistant professors in colleges and universities. As they progress in their established fields through research, teaching, and service, they can make bids for promotion and tenure, which typically elevates them to the rank of associate professor. Associate professors who continue to establish high profiles and become experts in their fields of study may bid for a promotion to full professor, which is considered an esteemed position reserved for the most successful professors working in their fields. College and university teachers who hold the rank of lecturer or instructor are typically not tenured/tenure-track faculty, and usually focus on teaching undergraduate courses, and are generally not involved in research, nor are they typically involved in department and university decision-making. (Note that in other English-speaking countries, the term lecturer might have a different meaning. For example, in the United Kingdom and in Ireland, the position of lecturer is equivalent to that of assistant professor in the US system.)

Assistant professor

The rank of assistant professor generally is held for a probationary period of three to seven years,[14] after which the individual will either be promoted to associate professor and granted tenure (i.e., cannot be fired without cause and a formal hearing process) or will be terminated from employment. As of 2007, 23.1% of academics held the rank of assistant professor.[15]

Competition for assistant professor positions in many fields is rapidly growing; the number of PhD graduates is rising, while the number of assistant professor openings remains roughly constant.[16] The opposite is true, however, in business disciplines, where the anticipated shortfall of business faculty may reach 2,400 openings by 2012.[17] The U.S. Occupation Outlook Handbook notes that a significant proportion of any growth in academic professor jobs will be due to "part-time and non tenure-track positions."[1] As of 2003, the average age at which scientists received tenure in the United States was 39, which can make it difficult for professors to balance professional and family obligations.[18]

The tenure process

After several years at the rank of assistant professor, individuals are considered for a promotion and tenure. Tenure generally constitutes a lifetime employment agreement, and could also serve as a means of protecting faculty whose research may be socially, politically, or scientifically controversial. Rates for achieving tenure vary, depending on the institutions and areas of study; in most places at least 50% of assistant professors will eventually become tenured and promoted to associate professors; however, this number can be as low as 10% in natural sciences departments of top universities or in non-PhD-granting schools. In unusual circumstances, it is possible to receive tenure but to remain as an assistant professor, typically when tenure is awarded early.

Associate professor

Upon successfully receiving tenure, an assistant professor usually is promoted to the rank of associate professor. The mid-level position is usually awarded after a substantial record of scholarly accomplishment (such as the publication of one or more books, numerous research articles, a successful program of external research grant support, successful teaching and/or service to the department[19]); however the specific requirements vary considerably between institutions and departments. As of 2007, 22.4% of academics hold the rank of associate professor.[15]

Alternatively, a person may be hired at the associate professor level without tenure (which is a typical practice at some universities, often done as a financial inducement to attract someone from outside the institution, but who might not yet meet all the qualifications for tenure). If an applicant is appointed to the rank of associate professor without tenure, the position is usually tenure-track with an expectation that the person will soon qualify for tenure.

At some institutions, individuals are promoted to the rank of associate professor prior to receiving tenure. In these situations, the individual may eventually apply for tenure at that institution or, optionally, seek a tenured position elsewhere.


Upon a sustained and distinguished track record of scholarly achievement within one's university and academic discipline, an associate professor may be promoted to professor (sometimes referred to as "full professor"). In most traditional colleges and universities, this position is always tenured; however, this may not be the case in a for-profit private institution or certain church-affiliated universities and colleges.

The rank of professor is the highest of the standard academic ranks in the United States, and is held by 29.5% of U.S. academics.[15] Advancement past the rank of professor typically involves administrative duties (e.g., department chair, dean, or provost) or selection for an honorary title or endowed chair.

The absence of a mandatory retirement age contributes to "graying" of this occupation. The median age of American full professors (in 2006) was around 55 years. Very few people attain this position before the age of 40. The annual salary of full professors averages at $99,000, although less so at non-doctoral institutions, and more so at private doctoral institutions (not including side income from grants and consulting, which can be substantial in some fields); in addition, institutions in major cities or high cost of living areas will pay higher salaries.[20] Full professors earn on average about 70% more than assistant professors in the same institution.

In addition to increasing salary, each promotional step also tends to come with increased administrative responsibilities. In some cases, these changes are offset by reduced teaching or research expectations.

Special academic ranks (tenured)

Professor emeritus and emerita

A full professor who retires in good standing may be referred to as a professor emeritus for men, or professor emerita for women. This title is also given to retired professors who continue to teach and to be listed; they may also draw a very large percentage of their last salary as pension. The title may also be given to full professors who have left for another institution but are still working full-time. The concept has in some places been expanded to include also tenured associate professors, or also non-tenure-track faculty. In some systems and institutions the rank is bestowed on all professors who have retired in good standing, while at others it needs a special act or vote. Depending on local circumstances, professors emeritus may retain office space or other privileges.

The word is typically used as a postpositional adjective ("professor emeritus") but can also be used as a preposition adjective ("emeritus professor"). There is a third, somewhat less common usage, following the full title (e.g.,"professor of medicine, emeritus".)

Distinguished (teaching / research) professor

Often specific to one institution, titles such as "president's professor", "university professor", "regents' professor", or "distinguished professor" are generally granted to a small percentage of the top tenured faculty who are regarded as particularly important in their respective fields of study. Some institutions grant more university-specific, formal titles such as M.I.T.'s "Institute Professor", Yale University's "Sterling Professor", or Duke University's "James B. Duke Professor".

Some academic and/or scholarly organizations may also bestow the title "distinguished professor" in recognition of achievement over the course of an academic career. For example, the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture annually recognizes up to five faculty at architecture schools in the United States and Canada with the ACSA Distinguished Professor Award.[21]

Named / endowed chair

A "named" or "endowed chair" is a full professor who is awarded a specific, endowed chair that has been sponsored by a fund, firm, person, etc. Named chairs are usually similar to the European model, in that they are a position rather than a career rank.

Other designations

For non-tenure track teaching positions in the US, academic institutions use a wide array of different job titles depending on if the position is temporary or permanent, if the work is full-time or part-time, and numerous other factors. Adding to the confusion over the formal names of non-tenure track positions, in almost every case the common-noun descriptor "professor" is used informally for people who teach at a college or university, regardless of their formal job title, and the terms are often loosely interchanged by faculty and administrators. For example, US President Barack Obama is commonly referred to as having been a professor of law at the University of Chicago, when in fact he formally held the title of senior lecturer, causing some controversy during the 2008 US Presidential Election. The faculty of the University of Chicago Law School eventually published a statement noting that it is common for lecturers to be referred to as professors, and that they support the use of the term professor to describe Obama's role with the university.[22]

Lecturer / instructor

"Lecturers" and "Instructors" in the US can work full-time or part-time and may be referred to as "professor" by their classes. At some institutions, they teach as their primary purpose, but they can also serve on academic committees. Since these positions are usually non-tenure track, they often do not involve a research or publishing requirement, although many of these professors do publish, research, and consult. Alternatively, at US medical colleges, the title "Instructor" can be given to someone who is full-time faculty and who may conduct research with no teaching obligation. These appointments are non-tenure track, as well.

Visiting professor

An individual hired with a college or university to teach for a limited time is sometimes referred to as a "Visiting Professor" or "Visiting Lecturer"; this may be someone who is a professor elsewhere, or a scholar or practitioner who is not. The term may also refer simply to non-tenure track teaching appointments (usually 1 to 3 years) and/or post-doctorate research appointments. The title can mirror the naming conventions used in tenure-track positions, for example the professor in question could be called a "Visiting Assistant Professor", "Distinguished Visiting Professor," etc.

Adjunct professor

An adjunct professor is a professor who does not hold a permanent or full-time position at that particular academic institution. Adjunct professors usually have no expectation of tenure. This may be someone with a job outside the academic institution teaching courses in a specialized field, or it may refer to persons hired to teach courses on a contractual basis (frequently renewable contracts). It is generally with a teaching load below the minimum required to earn benefits (health insurance, retirement benefits). In contrast with tenure-track professors, adjuncts do not usually have individual offices or a place to store possessions.

An adjunct is generally not required or even permitted to participate in the administrative responsibilities at the institution expected of tenure-track professors, nor do adjuncts typically have research responsibilities.

Adjuncts are not funded to maintain currency in their fields of expertise, nor to interact with students other than within the course(s) they are hired to teach. Often, adjuncts will work for several universities simultaneously, trying to come up with an adequate compensation package. They have been called part of the "working poor".[23] In 2014, a national news story described the situation of adjuncts as "Juggling multiple part-time jobs, earning little-to-no benefits, depending on public assistance: This is the financial reality for many adjunct professors across the nation."[24] In 2015, an adjunct professor stated that he taught five courses but made less than a pet sitter.[25]

Adjuncts are, compared with tenure-track faculty, inexpensive and flexible, acting as additional teaching resources to be called up as necessary. Adjuncts cannot count on employment: classes can be transferred from adjuncts to full-time professors, classes with low enrollment can be summarily canceled; and the teaching schedule from one semester to the next can be unpredictable.

In some cases, an adjunct may hold one of the standard academic ranks in another department, and be recognized with adjunct rank for making significant contributions to the department in question. Thus, one could be an "associate professor of physics and adjunct professor of chemistry."

In some universities, there are different ranks of adjunct faculty. For example, at the University of Iowa, the ranks are adjunct instructor, adjunct assistant professor, adjunct associate professor, and adjunct full professor; the University states that “the expectations at each rank are similar to those for the same rank on the tenure track”.[26]

Compensation and academic use

In past decades, adjunct professors helped universities and colleges expand the range of their course offerings to prospective and existing students. In this respect, adjuncts can also be a way to inform the predominantly theoretical, and therefore somewhat limited, focus of full-time academics with the more pragmatic perspective of those who actually practice a given discipline in business, government or nonprofit organizations. For instance, as of the early 1990s Marvin Kaye, a prolific fiction author, editor and anthologist, also worked as a part-time adjunct professor of creative writing at New York University[27] Another example is Edward H. Shortliffe, a pioneer in medical informatics, who was an adjunct professor at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons circa 2011.[28] Marilyn Milian, a retired Florida judge and star of The People's Court, taught litigation skills as an adjunct professor at the University of Miami as of 2013.[29]

Since the 1980s and '90's, however, colleges and universities have increasingly utilized adjuncts and full-time lecturers simply to save money, giving them core undergraduate courses to teach (e.g., introductory math, or freshman-level English composition). Due to the much lower salaries of adjunct professors, many American universities have significantly reduced their hiring of tenure-track (i.e., full-time, career) faculty, in favor of recruiting more adjuncts (and/or lecturers) as part-time, contract/temporary workers. As of 2007, such "contingent faculty" (non-tenure-track faculty) made up more than half of all faculty positions in the United States.[30] Some college English departments are now staffed by a majority of adjunct teachers, instead of tenure-track professors. A 2014 Congressional review found that although only "an estimated 18.5 percent of college professors worked as part-time faculty members" in 1969, as of 2011 contingent faculty made up "75.5 percent of the college teaching workforce, or more than 1.3 million people."[23] In 2014, a national news story described the situation of adjuncts as "Juggling multiple part-time jobs, earning little-to-no benefits, depending on public assistance: This is the financial reality for many adjunct professors across the nation."[24]

Various problems result from this turn to economic expediency by university administrators: a decline in the quality of instruction (because adjuncts are not funded to maintain their expertise); a decline in student-faculty interaction (adjuncts are not usually on a campus before or after the classes they teach); a decline in university identity (adjuncts are rarely loyal to the institutions that employ them); a general reduction in the amount of research produced by the overall faculty; departmental administration duties spread among an ever-decreasing number of full-time faculty; less resources for faculty participation in campus governance; and a reduction in academic freedom, due to adjuncts' generally precarious job security. It has also raised the competition among PhDs, especially in the humanities, to find tenure-track assistant professorships (see above); many of them are unable to do so, raising ethical questions about the universities which produced and continue to produce these underemployed academics.

Though adjuncts hold at least a Master's degree, if not a PhD., the salary for these positions is relatively low. Many adjuncts must work at several schools at once in order to earn a living in academia. Adjunct pay in state and community colleges varies; however, it can be as little as $1,400 USD for a 3-credit hour lecture-based course. At many private institutions on the East Coast, payment for a 3-credit hour course hovers around $3,000–4,000 USD, with average pay nationwide as of 2014 estimated at around $2,000–3,000 USD.[31] By contrast, tenure-track faculty at many major universities often only teach two or three 3-credit-hour courses per semester, while earning vastly higher salaries. (However, at many institutions, tenure-track faculty are also typically required to produce a wide array of research; represent the school by attending academic conferences and presenting their research; mentor and supervise graduate students; obtain grants and other funding for the school; perform administrative duties; and other responsibilities that adjunct faculty do not have.)

English professor charity work."[33] A.G. Monaco, head of human resources for the University of Akron, has declared that "Walmart is a more honest employer of part-time employees than are most colleges and universities."[34] Economist Thomas Sowell has placed some of the blame for the increasing number of adjuncts on tenured professors who use "temporary 'gypsy faculty' who teach introductory courses that the academic stars consider too boring to teach." [35]

It is commonly thought that if the university makes a good faith offer to an adjunct professor of teaching during the following semester (depending on enrollment levels), the adjunct—generally—is rendered unable to file for unemployment benefits during inter-semester breaks. However, this situation varies from state-to-state. In California, as a result of the 1989 Cervisi decision, adjunct professors who do not have "reasonable assurance" of returning to work, can receive unemployment compensation during breaks in employment. Virtually all appointment offers to adjunct professors are contingent upon meeting minimum enrollment and departmental funding levels, or, continuation of the academic program under which they have been teaching. The 1989 Cervisi decision confirmed that such contingent offers do not constitute "reasonable assurance" of re-employment, as defined in state unemployment code.

Adjunct professors have remained with the same employer for as long as 25 years without receiving health insurance or retirement benefits.[36] In 2014, a homeless female professor conducted a protest on the steps of the New York State Education Department Building.[37]

Groups supporting the efforts of adjuncts to organize for improved wages and working conditions include the Service Employees International Union, the United Steelworkers, and the New Faculty Majority Foundation.[31][38][39]

Professor by courtesy / affiliated professor

A professor who is primarily and originally associated with one academic department, but has become officially associated with a second department, institute, or program within the university and has assumed a professor's duty in that second department as well, could be called a "professor by courtesy." Example: "Dan Jurafsky is professor of linguistics and professor by courtesy of computer science at Stanford University". Usually, the second courtesy appointment carries with it fewer responsibilities and fewer benefits than a single full appointment (for example, affiliated professors rarely have voting rights in their courtesy department). Because affiliated professors are often listed following a partition in the catalog copy or web page for the department, they are often called "professors below the line" or "below the diamonds" or a similar phrase.

Research professor

A professor who does not take on all of the classic duties of a professor, but instead focuses on research. At most universities, research professors are not eligible for tenure and must fund their salary entirely through research grants, with no regular salary commitment from internal university sources. In parallel with tenure-track faculty ranks, there are assistant and associate research professor positions.

Assistant or associate teaching professors

These types of professors focus on teaching, often at higher loads than tenure track faculty, and in departments with graduate students, supervising teaching assistants. They may also be full-time contingent instructors who are not required to meet the research requirements of the tenure track. They may be ranked assistant, associate, and full.

Clinical professor

A clinical professor engages in practical instruction (of professional students) typically with an emphasis on practical skills as opposed to theory. This generally is not a "tenure track" position, but can be either full- or part-time. These types of appointments are common in law, medicine, and business schools, and are sometimes referred to as 'professor of practice'.

Honorary professor

This is a title normally granted to those who have contributed significantly to the school and community (for example, by donation for furtherance of research and academic development), but may or may not have earned a PhD.


Most full-time professors are paid by a college or university on nine- or ten-month contracts. Salary data for professors is typically reported as a "9 month" salary, not including compensation received (often from research grants) during the summer. In 2006, the overall median 9-month salary for all professors in the U.S. was reported to be $73,000, placing a slight majority of professors among the top 15% of earners at age 25 or older.[12] Yet, their salaries remain considerably below that of some other comparable professions (even when including summer compensation) such as lawyers (who earned a median of $110,000) and physicians (whose median earnings ranged from $137,000 to $322,000 depending on speciality).[40][41] According to the U.S. Department of Labor,

[Academic year 2007] salaries for full-time faculty in the U.S. averaged $73,207. By rank, the average was $98,974 for professors, $69,911 for associate professors, $58,662 for assistant professors, $42,609 for instructors, and $48,289 for lecturers. Faculty in 4-year institutions earn higher salaries, on average, than do those in 2-year schools. In 2006–07, faculty salaries averaged $84,249 in private independent institutions, $71,362 in public institutions, and $66,118 in religiously affiliated private colleges and universities.[42]

Salaries vary widely by field and rank, ranging from $45,927 for an assistant professor in theology to $136,634 for a full professor in legal professions and studies.[43] A 2005 study, by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, found the average salary for all faculty members, including instructors, to be $66,407, placing half of all faculty members in the top 15.3% of income earners above the age of 25. Median salaries were $54,000 for assistant professors, $64,000 for associate professors and $86,000 for full professors 2005.[44] During the 2005–06 year, salaries for assistant professors ranged from $45,927 in theology to $81,005 in law. For associate professors, salaries ranged from $56,943 in theology to $98,530 in law, while salaries among full professors ranged from $68,214 in theology to $136,634 in law.[43] During the 2010–11 year, associate professor salaries vary from $59,593 in theology to $93,767 in law.[45] Full professors at elite institutions commonly enjoy six-figure incomes, such as $123,300 at UCLA or $148,500 at Stanford.[46] The CSU system, which is the largest system in the U.S., with over 11,000 faculty members, had an average full-time faculty salary of $74,000 in 2007, which had been scheduled to increase to $91,000 by 2011.[47] Unfortunately for these faculty, the ensuing crash of the U.S. economy resulted in temporary pay reductions and total salary stagnation at the 2007 level instead, with this same level of pay now forecast to persist through 2015 at least, in spite of ongoing inflation. Professors in teacher education sometimes earn less than they would if they were still elementary classroom teachers. In one case study report, it was shown that a beginning full-time tenure-track assistant professor in elementary teacher education at California State University, Northridge was hired in 2002 at a salary of $53,000, which was $15,738 less than she would have earned in her previous position as a 9-month public school kindergarten teacher ($68,738).[48]

Non-tenure track faculty, as previously mentioned, make from $1,500 to $4,000 per course, so that if teaching four courses per semester (a schedule difficult to maintain for reasons of distance and market saturation, and a higher load than tenure track faculty must endure), they can earn from $12,000 to $32,000 per year. $12,000 per year is well below the poverty level in the U.S. in 2015.

The following table uses figures for the 2005-2006 academic year:

Rank Lowest median by field[43] Highest median by field[43] Overall median[42] Common range[43] Common salary range in relation to labor force
Full-time, age 25+[49] All earners age 25+[50]
Assistant professor $45,927 $81,005 $58,662 Low 50s – Low 60s 70th to 75th percentile 77th to 83rd percentile
Associate professor $56,943 $98,530 $69,911 Low 60s – High 70s 75th to 86th percentile 83rd to 87th percentile
Full professor $68,214 $136,634 $98,974 High 70s – Low 100s
Mid 100s at Elite Universities
86th to 91st percentile
96th percentile
87th to 91st percentile
97th percentile

See also


  1. ^ a b c
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ a b
  13. ^ (working paper; results later included in: )
  14. ^
  15. ^ a b c Almanac of Higher Education, The Chronicle of Higher Education
  16. ^ The Real Science Crisis: Bleak Prospects for Young Researchers The Chronicle of Higher Education
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^ a b
  24. ^ a b
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^ See Kaye's short bio in his collection Masterpieces of Terror and the Unknown (1993), Guild America Books ISBN 1568650434
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^ a b
  32. ^ Pannapacker, William. (2009) Just Don't Go, Part 2"
  33. ^
  34. ^
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^
  38. ^
  39. ^
  40. ^
  41. ^
  42. ^ a b
  43. ^ a b c d e
  44. ^
  45. ^
  46. ^
  47. ^
  48. ^ See Gordon, L. M. (January 6, 2004), "From kindergarten teacher to college professor: A comparison chart of salaries, work load, and professional preparation requirements." Published proceedings of the Hawaii International Conference on Education. ISSN# 1541-5880.
  49. ^
  50. ^
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