Role of Professors in Business Schools

Cite this article as:"Role of Professors in Business Schools," in The Business Professor, updated August 22, 2019, last accessed July 9, 2020,


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The purpose of this article is to tell you everything you need to know about what is a professor and what are their roles – particularly in business education. I use the word professor throughout, but I am primarily talking about business school professors.

Let’s begin by identifying who teaches in an academic institution.

Employment Status of Professor

Business schools contract with or hire professors to teach courses within the curriculum. Those professors might hold any of the following employment statuses.

  • Adjunct – An adjunct professor is a part-time professor. She enters into a new contract with the business school in any semester that she teaches courses. Generally, she is a practicing professional in area in which she is contracted to teach. She simply takes time off from her day job to instruct the business course(s). Business schools generally contract with adjuncts to cover classes for which there is no full-time faculty available.
  • Full-Time – A full-time professor holds full-time, longer-term contractual employment with the business school. Contracts generally vary from 1-5 years in length. In some instances they are evergreen – meaning that the period of the contract renews each year. Serving the schools is the full-time role of the professor, even if the professor pursues outside work or business activity. Most schools require the professor provide notification and seek approval before undertaking certain types of outside work activity.
  • Emeritus – An emeritus faculty members is generally a former senior faculty member (generally a full professor) who has retired from the school. In some cases, an adjunct who is closely affiliated with the school will be honored with emeritus status. This is generally true when the individual has achieved some degree of fame or notoriety which has greatly benefited the school. The school awards emeritus status as a honor to the faculty member. She has been granted special status by the school to continue using certain school resources, and will often offer services to the school – such as teaching a course.
  • Visiting – A visiting professor is, as the name implies, a professor who is contracted to serve full-time at the school for a specific term. Note that I use the word “serve” rather than “teach”. This is because professors with specific job classifications have different types of responsibility. We discuss job classifications below. The term of service of the visiting professor is generally 1 or 2 years. The objective of the visiting professor status is to provide some type of career support to the professor while the school benefits from the professor’s services. It is often a stepping stone for individuals breaking into academia (I.e., securing their first position as a professor). With the visiting professor experience under her belt, the visiting professor is in a better position to find full-time, long-term employment at another university.
  • In-Residence – The professor in residence title is used by schools to provide a short-term teaching contract (usually less than 2 years) to a an established (generally very accomplished) professor. It is generally a way for an established professor to receive school benefits/resources for a period while the school receives service or recognition for the professor’s work. The reason for the contract may vary depending upon the nature or desired contribution of the professor. Most frequently, it allows the professor to teach or conduct notable research while associated with the school.
  • Fellowship – This is an award of resources, title, and funds to a professor who is either teaching at or carrying on research in the name of the contributing school. It is common for professors from one university that needs additional support (resource or funding) to seek fellowships for outside organizations – including other schools. Fellowships can be in-residence where the professor lives at the college and continues research, or it can simply mean the professor has As part of the fellowship, the professor receives resources while the university receives recognition.

Now lets take a look at the duties of professors based upon their job classification.

Duties of Professors

Professors may also be categorized based upon their primary job duties or performance expectations. It is important to note that not all professors carry on all of he same functions. The primary responsibilities the varies categories of professor, and are generally as follows:

  • Research – Research means academic research within the professor’s field of specialization. Understanding academic research is a bit more complicated than it may first appear. Here is what you need to understand about academic research:
    • Types of Research: This might include quantitative or qualitative research. It may be experimental or other forms of discovery research; applied or application scholarship; or pedagogical research. Discovery research seeks to develop new theories or uncover new knowledge within the field. Applied research is based upon the application of concepts or theory to the practice of a discipline. Pedagogical research focuses on theory and application of teaching and learning within a specific discipline.
    • Peer Reviewed Journals: Academic research must be reviewed by peers in one’s discipline. This means that before research is publicly accepted, it is subjected to the scrutiny of other research academics with expertise in the subject matters. This generally takes place when the research is submitted to a journal for publication. Any identifying information about the research is removed. Then the research hypothesis, methods, results, and explanations are presented to undisclosed experts in the field. This level of anonymity is known as, “double-blind review”. This makes certain that the research is quality before it is published in an academic journal or text.
    • Conference Presentations – Before submitting research to a journal for publications, most researchers prefer to seek input and critique from their peers. They accomplish this by presenting their research before groups of other researchers at academic conferences. Which brings up another point. Professors form local, regional, and national groups. They hold academic conferences where researchers present their research to their peers for open comment, input, or critique. These groups also administer academic journals, which later serve as the publication outlet for academic research. Many conferences will allows professors to publish their research in the conference summaries – known as “conference proceedings”. Submissions for publication in the proceedings are generally subject to peer review in the same manner as a journal. Professors seek proceeding publication (rather than journal publication) when the research content or findings is more appropriate for this for any number of reasons. Most professors, however, present at conferences in an effort to better prepare their work for submission to academic journals.

As you can see, the academic publishing process is quite detailed and demanding. Schools focusing primarily upon research are known as “R1” or research level 1 schools.

  • Teaching – Teaching concerns lecturing or otherwise teaching a course to students. Professors are generally judged based upon the teaching techniques or methods used and the student satisfaction evaluations. These evaluations measure student opinion regarding how the course it taught and the content.
  • Student Engagement – Professors may be required or encouraged to interact with students. This may include mentoring, advising, or professional/social interaction.
  • Service to the Academy – Professors regard themselves a members of an academy of intellectuals seeking to generate and disseminate knowledge. Service to the academy might include reviewing articles for journals or conference presentation, serving on editorial boards for text or journal publications, serving in administrative positions within academic groups, or moderating research presentations.
  • Service to University – Some professors are required to serve on school boards or committees. These committees carry out planning and administrative functions for a specific matter affecting the academic mission of the school. For example, an important committee is the promotion and credentialing committee – which is charged with advising the Dean, Provost, and/or School President regarding who should be promoted.

As stated above, not all professors are required to carry on all of these functions as part of their employment.

Job Classification of Professors Based Upon Duties

Professors can be grouped or classified based upon their primary responsibilities. The primary classifications are as follows:

  • Researching Professor – A Researching professor is required to conduct academic research in the name of the academic institution. This builds the reputation of the school as a knowledge creation center. The extent to which a researching professor’s responsibilities are allocated changes based upon the focus of the school.
    • R1 Institutions – Professors in R1 institutions have a very demanding research requirement. As such, they generally have a reduced level of responsibility to teach, serve the institution, or engage with students. This is particularly true in R1 institutions, where researching professors will teach anywhere from 1 to 3 courses per year. Also, if they have pressing research to complete or grants to pay for the course, they may be given a course release from teaching these courses.
    • Non-R1 Institutions – Non-R1 institutions focus more heavily upon professor contributions other than research. While these professors must still research, the requirements for research are greatly reduced in terms of the number of publications and the required level of prestige of publication outlet (journal). Also, these schools tend to encourage applied and pedagogical research, as it more closely aligns with the missions of the school. It is common for a researching professor to teach 6 to 8 courses each year with extensive serve requirements to the school.
  • Professors of Practice – Professors in the Practice (or some similar name) are common in large research universities. These are professors with the requisite level of education to be researching professors; but, that is not part of their duties. They focus almost exclusively on teaching – and they will generally teach 4 or 5 courses per semester. They tend to be highly accomplished industry professionals. Their practical experience is thought to translate well to the classroom.
  • Clinical/Administrative Professors – These professors have a specific administrative function within the school. It is generally to manage an academic program or center. These professors will often teach courses that relate to the program/center. In addition to running the center and teaching, they may undertake some research related to program/center function.

Rank or Title of the Professor

Everything you have learned about professors, thus far, has to do with job functions, status, and classification. Now, let’s talk about the titles that you will see below their names. Generally, their titles will be as follows:

  • Instructor/Lecturer – An instructor or lecturer is generally a teaching professor (with no research requirement) who lacks a PhD (or other terminal degree, such as DBA, JD, etc.). They will generally teach a higher number of classes (similar to a professor in the practice) each semester. Their promotion potential is limited to the title of senior lecturer/instructor. Again, their performance is judged almost entirely on teaching.
  • Assistant Professor – Most professors coming out of PhD programs begin their careers as Assistant Professor. Most schools require a professor to serve in the role of assistant professor for 5 to 6 years before they can be promoted to Associate Professor.
    • Note: Depending on your status, you can be a researching Assistant Professor or Assistant Professor in the Practice. It is also not uncommon to see adjunct professors who meet the educational requirements to be a full-time professor who hold the title of adjunct Assistant Professor.
  • Associate Professor – Once an assistant professor passes the minimum time period at that rank, she can apply for promotion to associate. This generally requires putting together a formal compendium (a “packet”) of material in support of one’s application. This packet will outline and substantiate all of the contributions the professor has made in the applicable areas of service.
    • Note: As with assistant professors, a researching professor, professor in the practice, or adjunct professor might hold the title of Associate Professor.
  • Full Professor (or just Professor) – Once a professor has served in the role of associate professor for the requisite number of years (generally 5 to 6), she can petition for promotion to full professor. The requirements for promotion are a bit more strict than that of promotion from assistant to associate. Often, this level of promotion will focus heavily upon research (if in an R1 institution) or service to the school.

Ultimately, the school’s President and/or Provost make the determination of whether a professor will be promoted. In the school, however, the Promotion Committee will make the initial review of the professor’s packet. The group is generally a group of 3 to 5 full professors. The committee will examine the various criteria laid out in the School’s Faculty Manual to determine whether the candidate merits promotion. The criteria vary considerably between schools. The most common criteria for promotion include:

  • Academic Publications
  • Other Scholarly Activity
  • Teaching Evaluations
  • Student Engagement
  • Service to Academia
  • Administrative Service to School

Once the review is complete, the Promotion Committee will make a recommendation to the Dean of the School. The Dean will then make a recommendation to the Provost, who either makes the decision or makes a recommendation to the President.

Now we get to the 800 lb. gorilla in the room for researching professors – Tenure.


Tenure is an antiquated system whereby a Professor can earn a permanent employment contract with the school. That is, absent showing good cause, the professor cannot be fired from her position. She will hold her job until she voluntarily chooses to retire.

It’s important to note that, generally, only researching professors are generally eligible for tenure. The entire concept of tenure is to encourage researchers to pursue their research interests without fear of approval from the school. In theory, it promotes academic freedom of thought in the classroom.

Schools that do not have a research focus may not have a tenure system. For researching schools, the sole determinant for whether a professor is awarded tenure turns on the quality of their research. A school-wide, tenure committee will evaluate the research history of the professor. They will look not only at the number of publications, but also the prestige of the journal publication, and the impact that the publication as had on the field of knowledge. This can be evidenced by how many times a work has been cited by other researchers and whether the research has appeared in industry or text books.

The tenure process is very daunting for professors, because it is often part of an “up-or-out” system. That is, if the professor does not receive tenure, she will lose her job. She must then find another institution with lower standards for research (a teaching-focused school) or find a position as a non-researching professor.

Generally, in R1 schools, a new professor goes up for tenure after no more than 5 or 6 years of work. Along the way, generally at the end of the 3rd year of service to the school, the professor’s work with be subject to review by members of the tenure committee. This is known as “third-year review”. If the professor does not receive a positive evaluation of her work, she will either by given a warning or asked to leave the school. The idea is that the school is pushing out faculty members who are not improving the school’s reputation in terms of academic research. Again, the faculty member must then decide whether to leave academia, go to a school with lower publication standards, or seek a non-researching faculty position.

Chaired Faculty Positions

A larger or well-funded schools, it is common to encounter professors with a long title, such as “Jane Smith Endowed Professor of Whatever Discipline”. This person holds an endowed professorship. This means that someone (or institution) has given a significant amount of money to the school. The money was set aside to hire a professor who is an expert in some area or field. The school may be limited on the salary that it can pay faculty. The endowment serves to supplement (or sometimes replace) the salary that the professor would otherwise receive. For example, a business professor at a large R1 institution may earn a salary of between $100K and $200K per year. An endowed professor may receive this same salary, plus an additional amount paid by the endowment. Endowed business professors making the highest salaries in the US sometimes reach $1million per year.

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