Understanding Faculty Job Titles

Every higher education institution has its own classification of faculty ranks and titles making it impossible, for the most part, to assume that a title at one institution is classified the same way as at another. The following is an overview within the context of the U.S.

A typical hierarchy of rankings might look like this (lowest level to highest level):

Instructor, Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, Professor

These titles could also appear alongside other descriptive words such as Visiting Assistant Professor or Research Instructor. Some positions might be listed as being either part-time or full-time, and a single title might have an additional designation like “tenure-track, non-tenured, or tenured.” 

There are also different titles within research, teaching, and clinical roles. “Visiting” is a term that signals a temporary role. At some institutions, a “Visiting Professor” might engage in other faculty duties, but this will vary from place to place. “Professor-in-Residence” is another title that is less permanent, as it is not part of the tenure track, but it is common for these roles to extend to 3 years and have an option for reappointment. “Lecturer” appointments usually fall into more of an instructor role, but often share a similar duration as a Professor-in-Residence position.

As you may be aware, adjunct faculty are often referred to as contingent faculty who are part-time and usually have very limited benefits, if any, associated with the institutions at which they are teaching. They are also typically exempt from the range of responsibilities of fully employed faculty. The role is renewed based on the needs of the institution and payment is commonly on a per-course basis. At some institutions, adjunct faculty are unionized, usually with the goal of raising employment standards and offering protections for a vulnerable population of employees.

PRO TIP #1: Conduct an Internet search for the institution to which you are applying to learn about their faculty ranks and classifications. Example: A search using the phrase “Boston University faculty title classification” yielded this web page Classification of Ranks and Titles | Faculty Handbook (bu.edu).

Additionally, UConn has a fairly extensive Faculty Titles Dictionary, just remember classification and ranking content will be unique to each University: Faculty Titles Dictionary | Human Resources (uconn.edu)

PRO TIP #2: The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has recent data about adjuncts – 2020-21 Faculty Compensation Survey Results | AAUP In addition to viewing salaries you can also view faculty job titles.

DID YOU KNOW? AAUP Data Snapshot: 10112018 Data Snapshot Tenure.pdf (aaup.org) “At all US institutions combined, the percentage of instructional positions that is off the tenure track amounted to 73 percent in 2016, the latest year for which data are available.” Additionally, “In a recent report from the National Center for Education Statistics, of the 1.5 million faculty in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, 47 percent were part-time.” What is an Adjunct Professor? Job Description & Salary | Resilient Educator

Another aspect of understanding faculty titles is to recognize that expectations for broader responsibilities and involvement beyond one’s role will be unique to each institution. Follow Pro Tip #1 to make sure you are well informed as you embark on your academic job search and begin to apply to job postings. Access the Center for Career Development’s Academic Job Search page to gather more tips and guidance. Additionally, Career Coaches are available to meet with you to discuss your job search plans and application materials.  

Image: Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

By Kay Kimball Gruder
Kay Kimball Gruder Associate Director, Graduate Student & Postdoc Career Programs and Services | Pronouns: she/her/hers