What Is a Distinguished Professor?

What Is a Distinguished Professor?

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Not all professors have the same benefits: there are differences within the hierarchy of professors. For example, full professors get a higher salary and have more academic freedom than assistant professors.

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. The benefits of a distinguished professorship include a higher salary and increased research funds.

Promotion to the distinguished professor rank is the highest honor that a university bestows on a faculty member. It is estimated that only 5% of university professors are granted this prestigious title. Some universities even have policies that restrict the total number of distinguished professors to be less than 10% of tenured and tenure-track faculty members.

In this article, we explain interesting information about the honorary title. We will discuss the benefits, requirements, academic duties, and frequently asked questions about distinguished professors.

Benefits of Distinguished Professorships

Senior faculty members who received the title of distinguishing professors can enjoy multiple benefits.

A higher salary. The salary of distinguished professors is $226,270 per year on average. As explained on our page about professor salaries, this is twice as much as the average full professor.

Increased research funds. Universities usually allocate a minimum of $10,000 for the research funding of distinguished professorships (either to retirement or for a fixed period of time depending on the funding source).

Prestige. As with all honorary titles, a distinguished university professor has more influence in his department. The distinguished professor title is proof that he is respected by his peers.

When it comes to duties, distinguished professors have the same teaching and research duties as other tenured professors. Sometimes, distinguished professors have more academic duties than full professors, for example, they may be required to attend more committees, review the work of their peers, etc.

Requirements And Eligibility

Any faculty member can submit a nomination as long as they are a tenured professor.

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

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

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between an endowed and a distinguished professor? Both honorary titles are prestigious and offer significant salary increases. The only difference between an endowed professorship and a distinguished professorship is the size of the minimum endowment. The minimum endowed chair starts at 0.5 million dollars, while distinguished professorships require at least 2.5 million dollars in funding.

Can distinguished professors also get the benefits of their endowed position? Faculty members who simultaneously hold an endowed position and a university professorship can usually only receive the financial benefits of either the endowed position or the university professorship but may not receive the financial benefits of both simultaneously.


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

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

For more information about professors, I recommend our category on the role and duties of professors within universities and colleges.