Monday, June 06, 2005

American Professors and English Lecturers

My email inbox is now down from 550 to 80 and though there's still some way to go, I turn to the pleasurable task of beginning to catch up with all my favourite blogs. I'm grateful to Joe Cathey for his congratulions on Dr Cathey's Blog, where he calls me "Professor Goodacre", something that I rather like the sound of, but it's not something you'd be called in the UK unless you had a chair. Often there is only one chair in a given department, though here in Birmingham we have several (including Professors Parker and Sugirtharajah in the Biblical / NT studies area). I've always quite enjoyed receiving letters or emails from Americans addressed to "Professor Goodacre"; I knew someone who used to save these to look at to give him encouragement and hope that one day he would attain to this in the English system. I suppose, if I have understood the American system, our "Professor" is roughly equivalent to the American "full professor", our "Reader" and "Senior Lecturer" are roughly equivalent to the American "associate professor" and our "Lecturer" is roughly equivalent to the American "assistant professor". But the difference seems to be that it is acceptable for anyone at the rank of assistant professor / associate professor to be addressed as "Professor X" in the USA and Canada whereas in the UK, no one would ever address a lecturer, senior lecturer or reader as "Professor X".

I should perhaps add that I would always say "Please call me Mark".

Update (Wednesday, 00.03): Michael Pahl emails:
It's interesting that it does get a little more complicated than you've noted, however, when you add in a more basic rank in the North American system, that of "Instructor" or (more here in Canada, I think) "Lecturer." So a Lecturer here is nothing like a Lecturer in the UK, and as you've noted someone here can be called "Professor" when such a thing would be unthinkable in the UK!

And I've wondered, does the UK have a tenure system?
On the latter question, the answer is broadly yes, but it is not quite as formalised a structure as it seems to be in the USA and Canada. You'll often begin a job with "probationary status" and this will be upgraded to a permanent contract if you perform well, now including also doing a post-graduate higher education certificate. Others might take on a job with a fixed-term contract and then it be upgraded to a permanent contract in due course.

My own experience in Birmingham was of a fixed-term contract appointment in 1995, for three years, to act as "teaching relief" for the then new dean of the faculty of Arts, Frances Young. My contract was then changed to a permanent one at the end of that three year period in 1998. So to use the American language, I was granted "tenure" after a three year fixed term contract. It's more common, though, to go the other route, probation and then permanent contract, something resembling "tenure track" in North America, though that term is never used here.

1 comment:

Dr. Joseph Ray Cathey said...


You are spot on with your understanding of the English and U.S. system of address. For instance, I teach Hebrew and Aramaic at a small private university. I have not yet attained the distinction of a "full professor," yet all of my students address me as either "Dr. Cathey," or "Professor Cathey." It may be that in the U.S. if you have completed your Ph.D. then the privilege/honor of the title "professor" is bestowed upon you. A caveat, it may be different at Ivy league schools.

All the Best
Joe Cathey