What are the benefits of being full professor?

by on May 9, 2008 at 3:23 pm in Web/Tech | Permalink

Dan Drezner, who just won the title (congratulations!), gives a list.  Oddly he leaves off the most important (only?) benefit, namely that no one can tell you any more that you won’t make full professor.  I know that sounds silly but in essence you choke off the ability of your university to send you one very particular negative status signal.  Nor can they hold that threat over your head.

Sometimes I think this is also a benefit of being married.  Let’s say you and your significant other are not married.  In that case proposing, and having that proposal turned down, often causes couples to split up.  By marrying you remove this scenario as the source of a possible split.

There are advantages to sitting at the very top and very bottom of status distributions; it is often the in-between spots that are problematic.

1 Ian Ferrel May 9, 2008 at 3:46 pm

Except that becoming married requires a proposal. If you propose, and your proposal is accepted, then the state of marriage doesn’t protect you from any potential rejection, because you weren’t rejected. The only case where it would is if you proposed at one point, got married, and then later your spouse doesn’t really want to be with you, and would reject a proposal offered at that point. All you’ve gained is getting to stay married to someone who doesn’t want to marry you (unless their dislike is great enough to cause a divorce, in which case you split up _and_ potentially have major legal bills).

2 LP May 9, 2008 at 5:25 pm

Note that getting married also protects one from the chance of splitting up when a proposal isn’t made in a timely fashion.

@Ian: You make a point, but Tyler’s argument could be rephrased as ‘getting married protects you from the fear/worry of splitting up over a rejected proposal.’ Since the outcome is uncertain until the proposal is made, this is a real fear until you know which side of things you’ll end up on. And in light of my comment above about couples splitting up over non-proposals, it seems like getting married is a good idea as soon as you’re sure you want to be married to your partner.

3 Alan Gunn May 9, 2008 at 6:00 pm

I used to pester people about the silliness of giving professors tenure and not promoting them to full professor. It creates a set of second-class citizens, tells the world about it so that nobody else wants to hire them, and guarantees that they will be disgruntled. It also makes for a lot of extra work for promotion committees, because you not only have to do a tenure review, you have to come back in a couple of years and do the same sort of thing again. Sometimes, if the person keeps trying, you get to do it a third time. And for what benefit?

I understand that Harvard makes full professors of everyone who gets tenure. I’d ask people at my schools if they really thought we had higher standards than Harvard. I never got a single defense of our practices. But nothing ever changed. Academia is sort of like the Cub Scouts–you award people meaningless badges, apparently to encourage them.

4 MostlyAPragmatist May 9, 2008 at 8:34 pm

The best part about being full professor is having 100% job security and being able to incite the conservative masses against teachers unions…because they want job security which destroys incentives for performance!

5 nick May 9, 2008 at 9:23 pm

Wait a minute, aren’t the advantages of being at the top of a status distribution incomparably greater, by definition, than the advantages of being at the bottom of one? Since your example comes from the top, it’s hard to guess what you are thinking of as an advantage of being, say, an untouchable.

6 Jacqueline May 10, 2008 at 3:10 am

Why do you think “married with children” > “married without children”?

7 angus May 10, 2008 at 9:02 am

people, you generally get a raise when promoted to full. at my shop it’s 7%. Full is a carrot held out to mitigate any incentive tenured folks might feel to abuse the system and stop being productive. It puts another reward out there post tenure to help keep tenured faculty incentive-ized.

8 Jason Malloy May 10, 2008 at 2:56 pm

There are advantages to sitting at the very top and very bottom of status distributions; it is often the in-between spots that are problematic.

Are you seriously suggesting that those on the bottom of the status heap have more ‘advantages’ than those in the middle? That is not an easy assertion to defend.

9 Bob Meade May 10, 2008 at 6:45 pm

When you take into account the rest of the world, being a full professor does not necessarily place a person at one end of a status distribution.

10 Barkley Rosser May 10, 2008 at 8:45 pm

I should note that chaired professorships are not strictly ordinal in the scheme. Thus, I have known of cases where
Associate Professors have held chaired professorships, although this is rare. However, I have never heard of an untenured
Assistant Professor holding one.

11 PLW May 11, 2008 at 5:41 pm

MIT has named assistant professorship, they call them “Career Development.” As in the “Rudi Dornbusch Career Development Assistant Professor”

12 Barkley Rosser May 12, 2008 at 12:50 pm


Thanks for the info.

I probably should not have brought up the whole chaired professor thing.
It is really a different scale, although most are fulls, and mostly viewed
as more prestigious (and better paid) than most fulls. So, there is a considerable
range among the chairs. Some, like these MIT Dornbusch ones, are non-renewable and
only somewhat prestigious. Others are renewable, more prestigious, with more
money. Others are very prestigious, with lots of money, held for all of onw’s
career or even for life, sometimes including extra for setting up conferences and
so forth.

Clearly, this has to do with how
much money was given to set the darned thing up in the first place, plus the
circumstances of the institution and department the chair is located in (thus
determining how comfortable it is to sit in), and in terms of internal prestige,
how many other chairs there are and how comfortable/prestigious/well-paid each
one is to sit in.

13 guy May 29, 2008 at 2:18 pm

damn. i would have paid good money to be ‘Professor X’ …

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