The ABCs of tenure and titles

Whether you’re a scholar considering an academic career or just curious about a professor’s work, we’ve got you covered. Here is the timeline to tackle the tenure track, plus a rundown of academic titles (and what they mean) within the university.

Tenure timeline

  • PhD Four to six years of advanced graduate school, including a dissertation
  • Probationary period as an assistant professor Typically six years on faculty
  • Academic tenure as an associate professor Usually six years plus on faculty
  • Full professor Highest tenured appointment

What's in an academic title?

Dean: Distinguished head of a college or university faculty or department; usually tenured, PhD

Associate/assistant dean: Oversees and coordinates faculty affairs or research and all or some part of the programs and activities that support student recruitment, education, and retention

Department chair: Appointed by the dean to manage an academic department; usually tenured, PhD

Assistant department chair: Appointed by the department chair to provide support to the department team and chair

Regents’ professor: Faculty who have made pioneering contributions in their areas of expertise, achieved a sustained level of distinction, and earned national and international recognition for their accomplishments; usually tenured, PhD

Professor emeritus: Retired but retains an honorary title; usually tenured, PhD

Clinical assistant and associate professor, clinical professor: Scholars of teaching; non-tenured, PhD

Faculty associate: Non-tenure track, part-time professor; master’s degree or higher

Lecturer, senior lecturer, principal lecturer, instructor: Non-tenure track, typically teach undergraduate courses; master’s degree or higher

Professor of practice: A non-tenure track distinguished professional who may have a full-time job outside the university or is retired and typically doesn’t have a traditional academic background; master’s degree or higher

Visiting professor: Teaches at the university on a short-term contract; non-ASU tenured, PhD


Learn what it takes to tackle the tenure-track hurdle. »