What Is the Role of Professor Emeritus?

A professor emeritus is a highly respected retired professor for a college or university. Their primary obligation is to act as an ambassador for the school, which may include attendance at important functions or service on a board or committee.

Here’s what you need to know about becoming a professor emeritus.

What is a professor emeritus?

The word “emeritus” comes from Latin, originally meaning a veteran soldier with many years of experience. In modern usage, the word is an adjective which means to be retired from a position with honor.

While emeritus can be used as a title for any position, it’s most commonly associated with academic professions, especially professors. A professor emeritus is a professor who has retired but continues to hold their title.

The title of professor emeritus is generally the highest level of professor. Some of the other levels of instruction include:

  • Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA), a graduate student who assists a professor in teaching an undergraduate class.
  • Assistant Professor, a professor who works under a more experienced professor to help teach a lower-level course. This usually requires a higher level of education.
  • Adjunct Instructor or Professor, a part-time teacher for lower-level courses.
  • Associate Professor, a full-time teacher for higher-level classes who may have tenure.
  • Professor, as a lone title, means an individual with the highest academic title from a particular institution, often considered an expert in their field.
  • Distinguished Professor, a professor with ample experience and tenure who leads their field.

Distinguished professors are often the only level of professor to gain the emeritus status upon retirement.

How does a professor become a professor emeritus?

To become a professor emeritus, you must be in good standing with your institution, meaning you have a clean record, and your classes generally perform up to the standards expected at the institution for which you work.

Sometimes the title is granted automatically after a certain amount of time. Sometimes, though, the granting of the title requires a vote or nomination by the school and will be accompanied by a special presentation ceremony or event.

Most institutions only grant emeritus status to full professors. Adjunct, associate, courtesy, or visiting professors are usually not awarded the title, though if they become full professors later on, they may earn it upon retirement.

You continue to hold the title of professor emeritus (or occasionally emerita for women) for the rest of your life.

What are the benefits of being a professor emeritus?

Professors emeritus may retain or gain certain benefits from their schools upon gaining this status, though the exact benefits vary depending on the institution.

In some cases, the professor may continue to have access to the resources they used as a teacher, including professional email addresses and access to professional libraries, archives, and facilities. They are also usually privy to all of the benefits offered by a normal retirement, such as a retirement fund or insurance.

Do professors emeritus get paid?

Because they are retired, professors emeritus do not necessarily get paid a regular working wage. Instead, they may be granted a more substantial retirement fund or pension plan. They may also be paid to perform some of the duties associated with their title on an individual basis.

Still, for some, the title of professor emeritus is completely honorary and does not come with any monetary perks.

Responsibilities of a professor emeritus

With a title that is given so much respect, there are, unsurprisingly, a few responsibilities assigned to a professor emeritus.

The most universal expectation is that the individual will continue to embody the values and merits of their school in their retirement. It is entirely possible for a professor emeritus to be stripped of their title for unpleasant or improper behaviors in violation of a school’s public image.

Beyond this, professors emeritus might be expected to attend certain events or functions for the school, including induction ceremonies, graduations, galas, and other formal activities. They may be brough onto certain managing boards for the school in either a direct or honorary capacity and help to make decisions about school policy and daily operation.

Professors emeritus may be asked to give talks or presentations to younger or aspiring teachers, or host workshops for industry professionals, or they may seek out these opportunities on their own.

Some professors emeritus continue to teach part-time or become guest speakers after their retirement, though this is usually by choice. Earning this title requires dedication to education and academia in general, so continuing to teach throughout their lives may be a point of pride.


Whether or not it is formally recognized or simply given automatically, the title of professor emeritus holds sway in the academic world. It shows a unique dedication to education and a life-long passion for academia that is hard to come by in even the most intense industry circles.