Deans, department heads and professors – oh my! A field guide to academic titles


Thomas Celles



From provost to adjunct, the faculty of NSU and other universities have a variety of titles that define their role and seniority. With so many different titles, it can sometimes be difficult for students to understand what each one means.

At Northwestern State, the provost is the chief academic officer and the highest-ranking faculty member. Dr. Greg Handel currently holds this position.

“[The provost] oversees anything academic related: quality and integrity of academic programs and degrees, the curriculum for the degrees, proposed curriculum changes or additions and new academic initiatives,” Handel said.

The provost is also responsible for keeping up with local and national workforce needs and deciding where to focus academic resources in response. Finally, the provost is in charge of representing everyone from the faculty to the president of the university.

Underneath the Office of the Provost are the colleges of NSU. There are four colleges: nursing, business and technology, education, and arts and sciences. These colleges are headed by deans. For instance, Dr. Francene Lemoine is the interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Below the colleges are schools, such as the school of creative and performing arts. Each school is led by a director, like Director of CAPA Scott Burrell.

Finally, there are departments, the smallest segments of faculty. A department head is simply that: the head of a department. One example is Melissa Aldridge, head of the accounting department.

There are also differences between the various faculty who teach classes.  There are three types of teachers: adjuncts, instructors and tenure-track.

Adjuncts are considered part-time faculty. They’re hired on an as-needed basis to cover classes. Instructors are similar in that they’re hired on one-year contracts and are not tenure-track. If a faculty is tenure-track, it means they’re working towards tenure or have already acquired it.

There are three titles for the tenure-track professors at NSU: assistant professor, associate professor and professor. These are all designated by the time spent at an institution.

Generally, a professor will begin their journey teaching at a university as an assistant professor. After about six years, they can apply for tenure and submit their application to a committee. Upon approval, they become an associate professor and are officially tenured faculty.

After six more years, tenured associate professors are generally promoted to full professors.

The differences in types of faculty at NSU can be confusing to understand at first, but Behrend Behrendsen, junior, said he wishes these titles were more well-known.

“Most students don’t know the difference between the titles,” Behrendsen said.