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All professors are equal, but some are more equal than others

There's nothing quite so likely to give me indigestion at lunchtime than reading about the latest antics of certain vice chancellors in the Times Higher. Today's edition has a beaut of a story: David VandeLinde, the VC of Warwick University (and formerly VC of Bath University, which is where I know of him from) is introducing US-style academic titles at Warwick.

All 850 academic staff at Warwick University will from next year be able to call themselves "professor" following a decision to adopt the US system of academic titles.

Warwick is the first UK university to break away from hundreds of years of academic tradition, renaming lecturers "assistant professors", senior lecturers and readers "associate professors" while still calling professors "professors".

The radical move will horrify those who believe the "professor" title should be reserved for an academic elite. But David VandeLinde, Warwick's vice-chancellor, predicted that other UK universities would follow suit.

He said: "It gives us instantly internationally recognisable titles and provides us with a unique offer to our academic teaching staff in which all can share in the title of professor. It will inevitably be copied, but Warwick will be remembered as having the foresight to lead that change."

[...] Warwick will be the first university to adopt US titles for all academic staff. The system will be used for new appointees and adopted by existing staff by the start of the 2007-08 academic year.

I'm assuming that, in due course, former professors will be keen to distinguish themselves from their lesser colleagues by describing themselves as "full professors", as seems to be the vogue in the US. This certainly seems much simpler than our existing system.

During his time at Bath, VandeLinde was keen to introduce a number of US innovations, including sports scholarships. When he moved to Warwick, he quickly won the support of staff there, as can be seen in this quote from the THES in November 2000:

Professor VandeLinde said: "Warwick is now well established within the UK's 'Ivy League', and I look forward to the opportunity and challenge... to lead Warwick in becoming recognised as a world-class research university."

Personally, I found myself slightly mystified by this statement, because I was under the impression that Warwick was already recognised as a world-class research university...


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It's funny, when I was at university, there were a couple of people who were technically doctors in my French department, but they were people I had little time for them because they were arrogant and crappy teachers too.

On the other hand, the head of German and I were fairly close and I respected him so much I couldn't bring myself to address him by his first name even though he asked us to. We all called him Doctor. Because we respected him.

I'm not entirely sure it is a good thing to bestow everyone with the title of professor. I know universities are about research as well as learning, but anyone who is an academic should only teach if they have the talent for it, not just because they have the subject knowledge !

You know, I'm really rather going off this Vandelinde character.

My understanding, from something that was circulated a month or two ago, was that this was still just a suggestion that was due to be fully consulted upon and debated by the university academic staff as a whole, and voted on by senate. Now, granted, I'm not exactly in the loop as far as this sort of thing goes, but I don't recall hearing anything further about it until just now.

Stupid idea if you ask me. There's an obvious and well-understood ordering in the titles `lecturer', `senior lecturer' and `professor'. It's less obvious where `reader' fits into this scheme, but it's easily remembered once you know. It's not obvious, though, what the difference between an `assistant' and `associate' professor is. Plus it's likely to really wind up staff at every other UK university, for no benefit that I can see.

"So, you shiny new ""Professor""s, do you want to continue your industrial action?"

mmm well it'll make it easier to work out who to respect at Warwick the ones who ignore it completely. when I was a student in my second there were three physics guys in the house who were always deferential about their dept staff - all dr this prof that. we had none of that in the law dept. cue a fantastic slightly drunken argument one weekend when my law studying friend and I were too tipsy to be subtle about our taking the piss. it was only then that we realised that they honestly thought the law dept didn't have any drs or profs. to prove that they did we got the one text book we had to hand written by one of our profs to find he had four law degrees and was described as the leading authority in the area. oh and he was chair of the law school. this then led to the rest of the evenings argument about whether us referring to him as Bealey rather than prof beale was rude. I'll tell you what though we had more respect for him than they had for any of their lecturers for all their use of titles!

About five years through my (part-time, mathematics) PhD, I finally got around to asking my supervisor ``What exactly should I call you? Professor Rourke? Sir? Colin?'' and he replied, somewhat bemused, ``Oh, Colin of course - it's all first-names round here, you know...''

It very slightly unnerves me that one particular first-year undergraduate student of mine persistently calls me `Dr Jackson' whenever he emails or talks to me, despite me introducing myself as `Nick' and signing all my email messages `nicholas'. But then it's only in the past few years that I've managed to break the ``all grown-ups should be addressed formally'' conditioning that my parents instilled in me from a very early age.

Should I ever find myself in the position to do so, I intend to describe myself as a `lecturer' - none of this `approximate professor' nonsense.

You see, this is exactly it, it's not about titles, it's about the person holding the title.

I think, in the main, you have to find a way of keeping your feet on the ground if you get a title. Academic or any other kind of title.

Is this related to the strike that the staff are all on at the moment I wonder? Or is that a broader thing? Either way it means I will be unlikely to get the marks for my first group assignment and individual essay until after I've had to submit my second one, which is a bit pants really.

No, the strike is a separate issue, relating to chronic nuderpay in UK HE and the introduction of tuition fees. The employers' association UCEA had originally agreed that we were underpaid, but said that they couldn't do anything about it unless tuition fees were allowed, a statement which persuaded enough rebel MPs to vote for the HE funding bill introducing tuition fees when it came before Parliament a few years ago.

Now that we have tuition fees, UCEA have conveniently changed their minds, and are claiming that they'd never said that any of the money from tuition fees was going to go towards staff costs. The unions (NATFHE and AUT) have called industrial action in order to put pressure on the employers to honour their original promise.

What you're on the receiving end of is action short of strike action, namely the assessment boycott. I'm glad to hear that teachers at your institution are sticking to it (the support here is not complete). It does hurt the students, unfortunately, and we have kept the assessment boycott as our last resort and timed it so that the VCs have enough time to respond with an offer before the end of year exam period.

They took a while to decide how they were working to rule, to begin with they said we'd get marks but no feedback but then it became feedback with no marks. Which is kinda weird, because I knew our group presentation was more academically focussed than some of the others, and that was in the feedback, but is that what they were looking for or what? Without the mark it is impossible to tell because all feedback is constructive...

Thanks for the explanation though. There was no attempt to explain it, probably wisely as it isn't really our business. I'm glad the business school lecturers are sticking to it because I imagine they are amongst the best paid of the staff anyway? Or are the spoils of the MBA not used to increment the pay of the business school staff? How does that work, in fact, because surely you have to be able to pay (for example) CS staff more than History staff because CS people could earn so much more in the real world? Or do you have to forego such thoughts to work in a university?

Or are the spoils of the MBA not used to increment the pay of the business school staff? How does that work, in fact, because surely you have to be able to pay (for example) CS staff more than History staff because CS people could earn so much more in the real world? Or do you have to forego such thoughts to work in a university?

There are nationally-agreed payscales for staff in HE, with some exceptions. The post-1992 universities have lower scales than the pre-1992 institutions (a historical oddity), and there are some cases where staff are paid on NHS scales (clinical staff in medical schools, for example).

However, within an institution, staff on the same grade will be paid the same regardless of what their discipline is. A senior lecturer in history will be paid between £38,685 and £43,850 (not including the discretionary points at the top of the senior lecturer scale). A senior lecturer in computer science would be paid the same. (more details on payscales here)

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