COMMENTARY: Who is a professor?

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 13 October) — In our society, some people fondly address a person who is teaching or used to teach in college/university as professor or “prof”. Others, wittingly or unwittingly, identified themselves through their identification card, business card, or desk name plate as professor. In the present world of publicity, we read on tarpaulin congratulating a certain professor so-and-so for his achievement. In previous time, there was even a notion that if one was a master’s degree holder, he automatically acquired the title “professor”. On this particular instance, my writer-friend was compelled to sarcastically askme on which college/university this master’s degree holder, who identified himself as professor on his tarpaulin, was connected with. Are all teachers in college/university professors? Can anyone who is not a faculty member of higher education institution or research institution be called a professor?

In one top Malaysian university (Universiti Sains Malaysia), where I stayed for a 2-year fellowship, almost all faculty members are doctoral degree holders but not all of them are called professors. In Malaysian academic tradition, professor is an honorific title and the one awarded with this rank is recognized as “Yang Berbahagia” or honourable in academic or social gathering. As Malaysian professors, they are accorded with higher salary, benefits and privileges as well as social status. In this case, only professors are addressed by their colleagues and the public as professor. Others, whose ranks are below professor, are only addressed as doctor.

According to Prof. Edna Jover, Ph.D., former director of Zonal Center (the office that evaluates documents of aspiring professors in Region XII) at the University of Southern Mindanao (USM), in advance countries like the United States and Europe, only A1 scientists are normally awarded with the rank of professor due to high standard of qualifications. During my 2017 International Visitors Leadership Program in the US, I asked a professor about how US society perceives professors and I learned that, like in Malaysia, they are well-respected intellectual elite. They are look up as experts and scholars who continuously produce new ideas, models, and inventions as well as shape world views through their scholarships. In our local settings, we often watch over news or television programs some professors from top universities in Manila whose opinions, insights and perspectives are sought by media on various issues or appeared as resource person in congressional hearings to share their expert opinions on legislative measures.

Merriam Webster dictionary defines professor as “a teacher especially of the highest rank at a college or university” and “a teacher at a university, college, or sometimes secondary school”. The former is the specific/technicalmeaning of professor while the latter is generic. For example, Chairman NurMisuari had taught at the University of the Philippines (UP) before he became a revolutionary. So it was his teaching experience at UP where he was popularly called as prof but his academic rank at UP didn’t reach to the level of professor. Strictly speaking, when one is no longer teaching, he is no more a professor; he can be rightly called as retired professor in the same way that we call a former military officer as retired colonel or general.

In the Philippine setting particularly in state colleges and universities(SUCs), tenured academic ranks are as follows: Instructor I-III, Assistant Professor 1-IV, Associate Professor I-V, Professor I-VI, and College/University Professor (as the highest academic rank). Technically, only a tenured faculty member whose appointment is at least Professor 1 is a legitimate professor or entitled to be addressed as professor.

Under the current system pursuant to NBC 461 issued by Department of Budget and Management with the concurrence of Philippine Association of State Colleges and Universities (PASUC), the requirements for Professor 1 are as follows: CCE points of 159 points and QCE of at least 61 points, doctoral degree holder, extension work, research, development of utility/model or publication in an international referred and indexed journal, passing the PASUC regional professorial accreditation (with 3 SUC presidents and 1 external expert as panel of evaluators), and confirmation by the PASUC National Accreditation Committee. And to obtain the CCE points of 159 is not a joke. One must have significant accomplishment in educational qualification, length of service, participation and speakership to trainings and seminars, accreditation work, advisorship, awards and fellowship, membership to professional organizations and professional eligibility, among others. In other SUCs, there were some faculty members whose points have reached the level professor but they could not apply for professorial rank due to lack of publication. In fact, not all SUC presidents had the chance to occupy the rank of professor.

To emphasize the rigorousness of getting the rank of professor, only 11 candidates out of 17 aspiring professors from four SUCs in Region X11 passed in the 2017 professorial accreditation. In our College (Cotabato City State Polytechnic College), out of more than a hundred tenured faculty members and tens of doctoral degree holders, only Prof. Maripaz Carungay Abas (who passed in the 2017 accreditation and was appointed as Professor II in February this year) is entitled to be addressed as professor. In the latest evaluation (covering July 1, 2013-June 30, 2016), there are13 faculty members in the College whose points reached professor ranks but only four are eligible and candidates for the incoming professorial accreditation on November 14-15, 2018 at USM.

However, it is a different case in private college/university. Normally, a professorial rank is easily awarded. If one is a doctoral degree holder, he can easily be awarded with or promoted to a rank of professor, which is not the case is SUCs. In fact, some faculty members, who used to be professors in private colleges/universities, were awarded with only instructor or assistant professor position in a state college. This is not an issue of quality/standard of Philippine private colleges/universities as most of them possess it. Essentially, the salary of professors in SUCs is much higher than the rate of professors in majority private colleges/universities.

In comparison with executive positions in government line agencies, Professor II (SG 25) is equivalent to Director 1, Professor III (SG 26) is equivalent to Schools Division Superintendent, Professor V (SG 28) is equivalent to Director IV (regional director)and College/University Professor (SG 30) is equivalent to national undersecretary, commissioner of constitutional body, associate justice of court of appeals, associate justice of court of Sandiganbayan, provincial governor, city mayor, and the like.

In summary, the title professor is an academic rank or highest academic rank awarded to a tenured faculty member (mostly senior) in a college or university. It is neither a nickname nor a flattering address because it connotes distinction and intellectual probity in the academic circle. While all professors are necessarily doctorate degree holders, only few doctors are professors. With the rigorous qualifications to earn the title of professor especially in a state college/university, it is sometimes irritating to ears hearing one being addressed as professor when he is not. Worst, if he himself claims to be professor when he could never be one. It should not be used for the sake of having a title attached to one’s name (as Asian people like to use titles) because he/she is not an attorney, engineer, or doctor. If it is unfair to the hardship of full-fledge lawyers to call a mere graduate of Bachelor of Laws as attorney (as we are accustomed to doing it), it is similarly unfair to the hardship of full-fledge professors to call an instructor, assistant professor, or even associate professor (worst, if he/she is not a tenured faculty member of a college/university) as professor or prof. Legally, it is a usurpation of title.

I would like to thank Dr. Susana Anayatin, Commissioner of the Bangsamoro Transition, for encouraging me to write this article to shed light and give justice to the term professor, which is often abused and a source of pride by some Bangsamoro as observed by Dr.Anayatin. As an academic, we are morally responsible to correct things. Definitely, this is not to insult those who used this title wrongly but to educate the public on the right use of the term.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. The writer is a Doctor of Education, an Assistant Professor II at the College of Education, Cotabato City State Polytechnic College. His scholarly work is available at…. He provided technical assistance to his wife, Prof. Maripaz C. Abas, during her bid for professorship. For comments, he can be reached at