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A Comparison of Everyday University Vocabularies in Nigeria, America, and Britain (II)

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D. Twitter: @farooqkperogi 7. Lecturer II/Lecturer II/Assistant Lecturer/Graduate Assistant. As I said las...

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

7. Lecturer II/Lecturer II/Assistant Lecturer/Graduate Assistant. As I said last week, comparing the British/Nigerian systems with the American system can be tricky and can lead one fall into the pit of false equivalences, which I am sure I have fallen into already. Well, in the British/Nigerian system, fresh Ph.D.’s with no publication (especially in the humanities and in the social sciences) begin their careers as Lecturer II, move up to Lecturer I, to Senior Lecturer, then Reader, and finally to Professor. (People with a master’s degree in the humanities and social sciences start their university teaching careers as “assistant lecturers,” and those with a bachelor’s degree start as “graduate assistants.”) Graduates of disciplines that require more than four years to complete a degree, such as medicine, engineering, architecture, law, etc. are usually a step or two higher than their peers in the humanities and social sciences at the entry point.

In most American universities, Ph.D. is the minimum qualification to teach; over 90 percent of university teachers have PhDs or other kinds of terminal degrees. A few people with a master’s degree, as I pointed out last week, may be appointed as “lecturers” to teach lower-level undergraduate courses. But, these days, because of the oversupply of PhDs in the humanities and social sciences vis-à-vis available tenure-track jobs, many PhDs end up being “lecturers.”

 Graduate (teaching) assistants in American universities are not employees of the university; they are transitory graduate (masters or PhD) students who teach—or assist a full-time professor in teaching— undergraduates while they earn their degrees in return for a tuition waiver and a monthly stipend. So “graduate assistant” is not a university rank in American academe. Nor is “assistant lecturer.” In any case, in undergraduate-only universities, called “liberal arts colleges” here, there are no graduate assistants since there are no graduate programs.

Now, since most fresh PhDs start as Lecturer II in Nigerian universities and fresh PhDs start as Assistant Professor in American universities, why did I equate the Nigerian/British “Senior Lecturer” rank with the American “Assistant Professor” rank? First, I pointed out that equivalence is tricky and isn’t exact because of the vast difference in the systems. For one, there are only three ranks in the American professoriate (assistant, associate and full professor) while there are several in Nigeria and Britain.

But the American doctoral education system, even in the best-case scenarios, is longer, more intense, requires separate years of course work AND research, and is structured in such a way that many Ph.D. candidates leave their programs with substantial conference-paper presentations and peer-reviewed journal articles--often enough to earn the position of "Senior Lecturer" in the British and Nigerian systems. In many programs, in fact, people are not allowed to graduate, even they have completed their doctoral dissertations, until they’ve published in well-regarded journals.

This is not the case in Nigeria. That’s why one Dr. Enoch Opeyemi who falsely claims to have solved the Riemann Hypothesis said in a recent interview that a Yale University PhD student who challenged and tore apart his claims had no grounds to do so because PhD students don't publish in scholarly outlets until they have defended their doctoral dissertations. That’s a lie. As I pointed out in a Facebook comment, Opeyemi was only ignorantly externalizing his Nigerian educational experience to America.

 Even in the rare instances where people graduate from their PhD  programs without peer-reviewed publications in America, by the time they are in the third or fourth years of their academic careers, most Assist Professors in American universities can be equated with most ideal Senior Lecturers in the British/Nigerian system. In research and comprehensive universities in America, the consequence of not publishing and teaching is that you will perish because you will be denied tenure and fired. In Nigeria, the only consequence of not being a good researcher and teacher, in the best case, is that you will stagnate in one rank.

 I am aware that because of the rise in publication fraud in Nigeria, where many lecturers publish substandard, unpublishable nonsense in fraudulent “open-access” journals, things have been muddied. I have seen people in the rank of Lecturer II with 80 “publications,” 100 percent of which are in worthless, non-reviewed, predatory, money-making, open-access “journals.” But that’s a topic for another day. I am also aware that the internal politics of universities and departments can cause worthy academics to slug in a rank because they are not in the good graces of the wielders of influence.

8. Professor of the practice/Clinical Professor. As far as I am aware, this academic position doesn’t exist in the British and Nigerian systems. “Professor of the practice,” or “clinical professor” (sometimes called “professor of professional practice”) is a professorial title given to people with impressive accomplishments in and profound hand-on knowledge of a field, even if such people don’t have more than a bachelor’s degree. They usually only teach undergraduates and are not expected to be researchers.

The practice is intended to draw people with extensive industry experience to the academe and to bridge the gap between the "town" and the “gown.” This is especially common in such vocational and skill-based courses as journalism, engineering, business, medicine, etc., but it can sometimes be found even in “intellectual” disciplines like literature. For instance, the late Maya Angelou was a lifetime endowed professor of American literature at Wake Forest University, even though she didn’t have a bachelor’s degree.

This is unnecessary in the (old) British/Nigerian system because people could attain the highest rank in their academic careers with just a bachelor's degree. Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, JP Clark, etc. became professors (or, if you will, "full professors") without Ph.D.’s. The National Universities Commission has, however, now made it impossible for anybody without a Ph.D. to proceed beyond the rank of "Senior Lecturer." 

Americans also have what is called “research professors.” They are hired only to conduct and publish research in high-impact outlets; they don’t teach any courses. Increasingly, too, PhDs who are employed as “lecturers” in American universities are called “teaching professors” to differentiate them from lecturers who typically have only a master’s degree. 

You may probably have heard of endowed professors (who can be associate professors). Well, they are university teachers and researchers whose salaries are paid by a wealthy philanthropist or a foundation after whom the endowment is typically named, such as "Dangote Endowed Professor in Entrepreneurship." It’s a great academic honor to be conferred an endowed professorship.

Now, it is usual for the American media to refer to President Barack Obama as a former “constitutional law professor” or simply as a former “college professor.” Many people have asked me to clarify what that means. Well, Obama’s official title at the University of Chicago Law School was “Senior Lecturer” but, as you learned last week, Americans informally use the term “professor” to refer to anybody who teaches in a university. According to the University of Chicago Law School, Obama’s “Senior Lecturer” status was on an adjunct basis, that is, it was part-time because he had a full-time job as a lawyer and later as a politician.

 “Like Obama, each of the Law School's Senior Lecturers has high-demand careers in politics or public service, which prevent full-time teaching. Several times during his 12 years as a professor in the Law School, Obama was invited to join the faculty in a full-time tenure-track position, but he declined,” the school said on its website. Obama doesn’t have a Ph.D., but he has a Juris Doctor (JD) degree, a 3-year professional doctorate required to practice law in the United States, which isn’t the equivalent of a PhD, although JD holders can be appointed as Assistant Professors. The equivalent of a PhD in law is the Doctor of Juridical Science or the Doctor of the Science of Law, which is better known by the initialism SJD, derived from the Latin Scientiae Juridicae Doctor. (For more on this, see "Difference Between a Doctorate and a PhD")

9. “Academic staff” versus “faculty.” In the British system, university teachers are collectively called “academic staff.” That is why the name of the trade union for Nigerian university teachers is called the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). But in American English, the collective term for university teachers is “faculty,” which in British English means a division of a university that houses cognate subject areas, such as “Faculty of Arts,” “Faculty of Science,” etc.

“Professors” and “faculty” are interchangeable terms in American English. That’s why the American equivalent of the Nigerian Academic Staff Union of Universities is called the Association of American University Professors (AAUP), which is open to all people who teach in the university—be they lecturers, adjuncts, visiting professors, tenure-track or tenured professors.

In the American system, the term “staff” is used only for people who don’t teach or research in the university, what Nigerian and British English speakers call “non-academic staff.” So where the British and Nigerians would say “academic and non-academic staff,” Americans would say “faculty and staff.”

To be concluded next week

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