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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