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What Titles Mean

Hamerschlag Hall is one of the principal teach...
Hamerschlag Hall is one of the principal teaching facilities of the Carnegie Institute of Technology (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
For the 2014-15 academic year, my title will be "Visiting Assistant Teaching Professor of Business Communication." Reading this long title on my contract, I considered how labels and titles, beyond "disabled" and whatnot, shape how people view us.

And so, an analysis:

Visiting: not expected to remain; a guest; a traveler heading elsewhere.

Assistant: working to aid others.

Teaching: responsible for educating, with any research duties subordinate.

Professor: respected for past academic accomplishments.

Business Communication: specializing in workplace communication, instead of academic discourse.

The full title implies my role is to teach classes in the business school so other professors can focus on research. It is a temporary post, one that many scholars hold at an institution before locating a permanent position.

Thankfully, teaching is not dismissed or undervalued at the institution where I work, but that is a problem at many research universities. True, dedicated researchers often earn more money, but many "Research Professors" find themselves like "Teaching Professors" — without the promise of tenure or job security. The "Tenure Track" represents that mix of teacher-scholar that I enjoy. But, if asked to choose between research and teaching, I'd go with the teaching as my job. I enjoy working with students and watching them make discoveries.

Job titles convey meaning not only to others, but to the holders. The title helps me understand my role on campus. It's also valuable to understand that titles are bureaucratic, used to comply with rules, regulations, and traditions.

Outside academic settings, people use the title "professor" without the various rank and responsibility modifiers. To my neighbors and family, I'm a professor of communication, and that's it. Trying to explain academic rank resembles explaining military ranks.

As readers know, I like "writer" as my primary label, but "professor" can only increase the writing and public speaking opportunities.
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  1. Does Visiting equal adjunct? Just curious.

    1. No. Visiting is full-time, standard appointment, but with an expiration. Adjuncts are part-time employees, renewable at most institutions.


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