Professor Emeritus: What Happens When a Professor Retires?

Professor Emeritus: What Happens When a Professor Retires?

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Did you know that some professors can’t be fired?

That’s what universities call “tenure.” Tenure grants a professor permanent employment. It was set in place to give high-achieving professors complete academic freedom. In fact, once tenured, professors are protected from being fired over political motives.

Once they retire, tenured professors are usually given the honorary title of “professor emeritus”. The emeritus status comes with privileges, including access to campus facilities like the library (and sometimes an office and laboratory), an invitation to take part in convocation, and a university e-mail address.

Conditions to Become an Emeritus Professor

In some universities, tenured professors are automatically given the honorary title of professor emeritus upon retirement. While in other institutions, there are some requirements that must be met such as:

  • Longevity: it is usually required to teach as a tenured professor for ten or more years to be considered for the emeritus status.
  • Recommendations: it is sometimes required to be recommended by faculty members and other tenured professors.
  • Persistence: the emeritus title is made for professors who retain active participation in university and department activities even after retirement.

Once the department chair provides the dean with a letter summarizing the retiree’s career, there is sometimes a department’s vote to decide whether the professor will be granted emeritus status. Faculty sometimes switch the status of a professor to emeritus to free up a faculty slot for a new hire.

What Are the Duties of a Professor Emeritus?

Emeritus professors can ramp down their duties, go part-time, or even halt all their activities. Emeritus professors are no longer expected to conduct research, attend meetings, and teach classes.

However, they sometimes retain office space to continue their academic duties. For example, the famous professor Donald Knuth retired at 54 years. He stopped teaching his classes and used his emeritus status to focus on writing a set of books about computer science, called The Art of Computer Programming.

The Importance the Emeritus Status

Emeritus professors often retain some influence over the academic system. For example, they might still be appointed on the board of their academic department.

The emeritus title is considered very prestigious. Retired professors who have been awarded emeritus status may include their title in publications and signatures on behalf of the university.

On the other hand, professors who retire without the emeritus title have no status and rank within the university.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here’s a list of the most frequently asked questions about emeritus professors:

  • Are emeritus professors still paid? Yes! However, they usually earn half as much as they used to. The average salary for emeritus professors is $46,366 a year. For more information, check out our breakdown of professor salaries by academic rank.
  • Can an emeritus professor supervise a graduate student? Yes, some emeritus professors are willing to serve as research mentors for graduate and undergraduate students.
  • Are all retired professors emeritus? Not all professors are tenured. A retired professor is given the title of “professor emeritus” provided that he has tenure.
  • What are retired female professors called? If they are tenured, they are called “professor emerita.”
  • Can an emeritus professor lose his title? Yes, the University may in exceptional circumstances suspend or remove the title should a conflict of interest arise, or should the Emeritus Professor return to paid employment.

Learn More

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

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