What is a Professor Emeritus?

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  • Written By: Lainie Petersen
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 11 November 2019
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Professor emeritus is a title that many colleges and universities offer to retired professors. Academics earn or receive the title if they meet the qualifications set by the institution by which they were employed. There is no single standard for bestowing the title of professor emeritus within the academic community. Instead, colleges and university systems set their own standards for honoring their faculty with this title. In many cases, the title of professor emeritus brings with it certain privileges. These privileges likewise vary and may include the right to maintain an on-campus office, the opportunity to continue teaching, or the use of institutional facilities.

The spirit of the professor emeritus title is in its recognition of an academic's previous and ongoing relationship and contributions to the academic community. In some schools, the standard practice is to award all retirees with the title providing that the retiree served at the school for a specific length of time. At other schools, retirees are not automatically assured of receiving the title or its privileges. Instead, the professor's service to the school must have been distinguished in some way. The awarding of the title may be granted by a department chair, a committee, or an administrative board. The school or its governing system may require that the candidate for professor emeritus status be nominated to the position by a high-ranking administrator, such as a college dean.


Once the title is awarded, the academic may be able to take advantage of various privileges. As many academics may want to continue their scholarship even after retirement, access to university libraries, laboratory facilities, and computers and databases is crucial to their ongoing work. With the status of professor emeritus, a retired academic can often continue his research and make contributions to his scholarly community. As many colleges and universities also offer comprehensive services to students and faculty, such as counseling services, wellness services, or on-campus exercise facilities, a professor emeritus and possibly his family may be able to continue to enjoy these privileges as long as he lives near the school.

In some cases, a professor emeritus may be able to continue teaching if she enjoys doing so. Courses taught by a professor emeritus may be part of the regular curriculum, but may also take the form of high-level seminars in a specific area of interest to the professor. In addition to taking on a teaching role, some with this title may also be able to work directly with graduate students, serving as advisors or thesis/dissertation committee members.


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