What Makes a Professor Distinguished?

The title of “distinguished professor” is given to top tenured professors to recognize their outstanding academic contributions. This designation is highly honorific and very exclusive.

Distinguish professorship usually comes with significant benefits, such as:

  • A higher salary: as explained on our page about professor salaries, distinguished professors earn twice as much as full professors (on average).
  • Increased research funds (either to retirement or for a fixed period of time depending on the funding source).

However, distinguished professors have the same duties as other tenured professors.

Awarding procedure

To be eligible for consideration, the nominee must be a tenured professor.

Any faculty members can submit a nomination.

This submission is then carefully reviewed by a committee consisting of administrative officials, faculty members, and deans. To earn the distinguish professorship, the professor has to show:

  • Distinguished performance in academic work
  • Excellence in the promotion of learning and student attainment
  • Outstanding leadership and service to the profession


Some institutions grant more university-specific, formal titles such as M.I.T.’s “Institute Professor”, Yale University’s “Sterling Professor,” or Duke University’s “James B. Duke Professor.”

Similar titles can be awarded, such as:

  • Distinguished research professors are internationally recognized for their original contributions to knowledge.
  • Distinguished teaching professors is a title that rewards enthusiasm in teaching and the ability to inspire creative work by students.
  • The title of President’s professor or Regents professor serves as recognition of the highest academic merit.

Learn more

Check out this page where I ranked each professors from assistant to emeritus!

I also wrote other articles about academic rankings that might interest you:

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