What Is an Endowed Chair (or Professorship)?

What Is an Endowed Chair (or Professorship)?

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High-achieving professors sometimes have the opportunity to receive one of the highest academic awards that universities can bestow on a faculty member: the endowed professorship.

An endowed chair (or professorship) is a faculty position that is privately funded by an endowment. The endowment is a donation that remains locked. The interest from the grant gives the school money to operate on, ensuring sustainable financial support.

The endowment usually covers the professor’s salary, research, travel stipends, and other associated costs. The endowment funds are usually named after the name of the donor. Therefore, an endowment is both an honor to the named chair holder who receives it and also an enduring tribute to the donor who establishes it.

How Much Does It Cost to Endow a Professor?

University policies often require the minimum endowment to be around one million dollars. This minimum is put in place to guarantee that the professor can benefit from the interest of the fund. A one-million-dollar endowment typically provides about $40k per year in interest.

The expenses covered by the fund usually pay for part of the faculty member’s salary or research expenses.

The minimum price of an endowment also depends on the academic rank of the endowed professor. To give you an idea of the prices of the different positions, here is the typical pricing of endowed chairs for universities:

  • $1,000,000 will establish an endowed chair to support a visiting professor.
  • $1,500,000 will establish an endowed chair to support an assistant or associate professor.
  • $1,500,000 will establish an endowed chair to support a professor of the practice.
  • $2,500,000 will establish an endowed chair to support a full professor.
  • $3,000,000 will establish an endowed chair to support a university professor with appointments in more than one discipline.
  • $5,000,000 will establish an endowed chair to support a faculty member holding the distinguished designation of the college dean. We have written a dedicated article about distinguished professors.

To learn more about these different ranks, I recommend this article about the different types of professors.

Who Pays for Endowed Professorships?

Here is the list of the different donors who fund endowed professorships:

  • Foundations: Many foundations promote research on cancer and other diseases.
  • Individuals: That’s the reason why so many chairs are named after people. For example, here are some chairs from Harvard: Hollis Professor of DivinitySteven and Maureen Klinsky Professorship of Practice for Leadership and ProgressCarl H. Pforzheimer, Jr. Professor of Teaching and Learning, etc.
  • Countries: For example, the Swiss National Fonds promotes scientific research in Switzerland.
  • Private companies: More and more private companies finance academic research. This phenomenon raises important questions about conflicts of interest: can researchers remain impartial if they are paid with corporate money? It’s hard to say yes when some researchers are paid by pharmaceutical companies to confirm its drugs’ effect. On the other hand, some academic research could not be funded without the help of the private sector.

To the donor, giving away his money towards academic research has multiple benefits. First of all, it is a tax-deductable donation that can be written off at the end of the fiscal year. Depending on the university policy, donors can also submit wishes to the university. Donor wishes can determine the name of the chair, the academic programs that the professor will pursue, which professor can be considered eligible for the position, etc.

Why Are Endowed Chairs Important?

For professors: The endowed chair allows the professors to support assistants, earn a higher salary, buy equipment, and travel to conferences. It also provides the opportunity to try out new ideas that are sometimes too risky to get funding through regular proposals but are still worth trying.

For universities: Endowments are a great way for the universities to attract esteemed faculty members (that they could not attract otherwise). It might also help universities to open a new department chair and expand the scope of their research.

For students: One professor or chair can touch change the course of study of many graduate and undergraduate students. Students might also get the opportunity to work with equipment funded by the endowment.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the duties of endowed professors? They have the same responsibilities as other professors; they lecture, conduct research, and supervise doctoral candidates.
  • How prestigious is an endowed professorship? It is one of the most prestigious academic positions. Only honored and esteemed professors get funded by an endowed professorship.
  • What is the difference between an endowed chair and an endowed professorship? An endowed chair exists independently of the person who holds it, and if they leave, the chair can be filled by someone else. An endowed professorship is attributed to a professor.
  • Are endowed professors paid more? Yes, endowed professors are (on average) paid higher than the average full professor. For more information, check out our page about: professor salaries by academic rank, major, and state.

Learn More

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

We also have a category of articles dedicated to the topic of professorships.