The College Donor Digest

Glossary of Academic Job Titles

August 03, 2022 | Emily Burden Rees

When making a gift to higher education, donors may encounter a complex hierarchy of academic job titles. To help navigate the jargon, we defined titles frequently used in the academy. Each university may have its own variations of each position and associated responsibilities. 

President: Head of a college or university and chief of ceremonial and executive functions. A president oversees the institution—its mission, objectives, strategy, policies, hiring, budget, revenue, and academic successes and weaknesses. The president reports to the institution’s board of trustees.  

Chancellor: Executive head of one university or campus within a university system (e.g., the University of California–Los Angeles) who reports to the president who leads the entire system (e.g., the University of California system). Chancellor is defined differently when used in other categories of colleges or universities. At private institutions, like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the chancellor ranks below the president and is equal to or below the provost.      

Provost: Second-most senior leader after the president. Sometimes called the vice president of academic affairs or dean of faculties, provosts make decisions regarding university-wide budget, faculty, tenure, and student policies.  

Dean: The chief administrator of a school or college (e.g., the school of medicine or the school of music) or of a division (e.g., faculty or admissions) who reports to the vice president or provost. Deans are responsible for budget, management, faculty hiring, outreach, strategy, and goals. This is not an academic position, but deans of schools or colleges sometimes elect to retain a teaching course or seminar.    

Department Chair: Administrative and academic department head responsible for leading department curriculum, budget, faculty performance, dispute resolution, and research. Department chairs perform administrative duties and are sometimes named, but not always. 

Named Chair/Endowed Professorship: A titular, permanent position for outstanding senior faculty. Salary and research funds are paid via an established fund dedicated solely to the position, which the college or university often allows the donor to name. Each institution will have its own title protocols, but a named chair is not the same as a department chair.  

Tenure: Permanent employment status awarded to faculty members. Tenure prevents termination without cause and gives greater autonomy in research, publication, and teaching. Tenure is awarded after a rigorous, multi-year review process to faculty members with excellent research, teaching, and service credentials. Professors are reviewed for tenure every one to two years after assuming a position, with full tenure possible after six years. For tenure reviews, professors compile a list of their publications, teaching experience, a record of service, and letters of endorsement from senior scholars. 

Full Professor: Highest unnamed, non-endowed faculty rank for professors with notable credentials in research, teaching, and service to the university. Full professors often have tenure (though not always) and rank above associate professors.  

Associate Professor: Mid-level teaching position with several years’ experience. Associate professors usually have tenure (though not always), report to the department chair, and rank above assistant professors. 

Assistant Professor: Entry-level, tenure-track teaching position. Assistant professor is often the first position available for recent Ph.D. graduates with research and teaching experience. There are also non-tenure track positions for full, associate, and assistant professors. 

Clinical Professor: Teaching position for individuals who currently practice in their field, especially common in medicine, law, and business. Clinical professors may have non-teaching responsibilities (like research), but their primary responsibility is to instruct according to practice rather than theory or new research. Clinical professors actively practice in their field but may reduce their hours to concentrate on their academic employment. Appointments are made by the department chair and approved by the dean.  

Lecturer: Lecturing position, typically part time, for individuals employed in or retired from their field. Lecturers are not required to have a postgraduate degree to instruct as they are qualified through extensive experience and often concurrent employment in their field. This is a more common, cross-disciplinary position than clinical professor. 


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