I noticed that the definition of the tag is:

Queries related to professors, a highly accomplished and recognized academic and an expert in their respective discipline.

I don't really like this definition because it seems to be (1) aggrandizing and (2) focused on tenured professors at research universities. Not all professors (ranked or adjunct) at the liberal arts college at which I teach are experts in their respective disciplines. The description is even less accurate for (most) community college professors.

While I know I could edit the tag myself, it seemed worth consulting the community for such an important tag.

As a starting point for discussion, here is a draft of an alternative definition:

Queries relating to professors, [faculty] members whose job responsibilities may include [research], [teaching], and [service-activities]. See also [assistant-professor], [associate-professor], and [professor-emeritus].


Here is an improved definition, replacing "faculty" with "academic staff" (per @Anyon's comment) and removing references to other tags, which I have since learned do not belong in tag usage guidance:

Queries relating to professors, academic staff members whose job responsibilities may include research, teaching, and service.

I have made the edit.

  • 2
    Sounds reasonable! Commented May 16, 2021 at 19:07
  • 11
    Rather than aggrandizing, I think the current definition is more reflective of a common non-US usage of the word 'professor' (in many countries it only applies to the highest academic rank, and e.g. assistant professors would have some other title). Having a more international definition as you propose seems sensible, but in that case I would suggest replacing "faculty" with e.g. "academic staff".
    – Anyon
    Commented May 16, 2021 at 19:13
  • Thank you, @Anyon, for the non-US perspective. Commented May 16, 2021 at 19:19
  • 4
    +1. In a larger sense, this tag seems very broad (1000+ posts), including questions about (1) the career path/goal of becoming a professor, (2) navigating the faculty hiring process, (3) being a professor, (4) how to interact with professors, (5) general research questions faced by a professor, and (6) general teaching questions faced by a professor. This tag seems so broad that it's almost useless. Maybe in addition to improving the definition, we should narrow the scope and give guidance accordingly.
    – cag51 Mod
    Commented May 17, 2021 at 0:08
  • "academic staff members" is the most accurate, please leave it in one way or another.
    – sleepy
    Commented May 17, 2021 at 22:47
  • 4
    The term "staff" does not seem correct to me. In the departments I've been in, "staff" referred to support workers - HR, advising, marketing, and so on. "Faculty" seems far more accurate a term under the definition of "professors".
    – Jeff
    Commented May 19, 2021 at 0:49
  • @Jeff I agree, "staff" is confusing because it usually means "not a professor." While I see the benefit of not using "faculty" to include lecturers and others that people may think of as professors but who are technically not, perhaps "university employees?" Commented May 19, 2021 at 0:59
  • @Anyon Could you please explain why you prefer "academic staff"? I'm inclined to agree with Jeff and Azor Ahai. Would everyone be happy with "academic personnel"? Commented May 19, 2021 at 18:12
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    @EllenSpertus Before learning about "the" US university system, I would've understood "faculty" to exclusively refer to a division of the university (typically called a "college" in North America), e.g. "Faculty of Natural Science", and not to its employees. A member of such a faculty isn't necessarily a professor - there can be "administrative faculty". But probably we won't find a universal term, so who knows what's best.... Also, I thought there's typically a distinction made between "staff" and "academic staff", but Jeff appears not to make it, so maybe it's not as common as I thought.
    – Anyon
    Commented May 19, 2021 at 18:44
  • @EllenSpertus I'd be happy with "academic personnel", which coincidentally is what Wikipedia uses as a headline: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Academic_personnel
    – Anyon
    Commented May 19, 2021 at 18:46
  • @Anyon "Faculty of" is common in Canada ... just to add another inconsistency. I think "academic personnel" sounds overly stuffy and doesn't really mean anything to someone checking to see if a tag is correct (but no one does anyway so) Commented May 19, 2021 at 18:49
  • @AzorAhai-him- Haha, that's true. I don't know if I ever read the tag definition prior to this question... Good point about Canada too. I think this whole thing is just so inconsistent that it probably doesn't matter much which specific wording is picked.
    – Anyon
    Commented May 19, 2021 at 19:08

2 Answers 2


First, thank you for asking this! I think we should avoid as much as possible tag wikis describing titles and professions on the basis of accomplishments and recognitions. Actually, looking at the full tag wiki reported below, I would say that there is room for a few more adjustments (to be fair, the tag wiki was created in 2012, in the early days of this community, and a lot has probably changed here since then):

A professor is a scholarly teacher; the precise meaning of the term varies by country. Literally, professor derives from Latin as a "person who professes" being usually an expert in arts or sciences, a teacher of high rank.

A professor is a highly accomplished and recognized academic, and the title is awarded only after decades of scholarly work. In the United States and Canada the title of professor is granted to all scholars with Doctorate degrees (typically Ph.D.s) who teach in two- and four-year colleges and universities, and is used in the titles assistant professor and associate professor, which are not considered professor-level positions elsewhere, as well as for full professors.

Note : This tag wiki has content adapted from Wikipedia, used under the CC-BY-SA 3.0 license.

Additional remarks:

  1. We can probably try to write down a tag wiki for the term professor without reference to Wikipedia. Your proposal seems fine to me, and we probably don't need a long wiki such the one above.
  2. "the title is awarded only after decades of scholarly work": decades to become full professor, maybe, but I would not consider such a strong statement for all levels of professorship.
  3. Given the internationality of this community, I would avoid any reference to specific countries.
  • The middle para is not accurate for US/Canada, many PhD-holders who teach are called "lecturers," and "professor" is a different job that typically involves research. Commented May 17, 2021 at 14:54
  • @AzorAhai-him- That's also why I suggested to get rid of that paragraph. Commented May 17, 2021 at 14:56
  • 1
    The terms "professor" is completely meaningless without a context. It can mean anything from "anyone who stands in front of a class and attempts to teach them something" to "the highest level of academic rank at a university."
    – alephzero
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 9:45

The description of the tag should be targeted to our community, not to some person who has zero knowledge of higher education. As such, the important part is to clarify what kind of academic positions (in an international context) are meant to be covered by the tag and which ones are not.

The original description sounds a bit like it is describing a UK professorship. My hunch would be that we're best off starting with US (assistant/associate/full) professors as all being included, which then leads us to include UK (senior) lectures/readers/professor, French maitre de conferences and professors, etc. On the other hand, I'd exclude US lecturers/adjuncts.

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