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"accepted a chair"....a little clarification

Posted by Word Wizard on January 07, 2003

In Reply to: "accepted a chair"....a little clarification posted by Bob on January 06, 2003

: : : : : Does it mean the person accepted a job as chairman of the board?

: : : : Any academics here? I think it means accepting the chairmanship of a college department rather than a board.

: : : I've recently been accused of being a professor, so I ought to answer this one. Accepting a chair is the jargon for taking a professorship. In UK universities at least professors are the top of the academic tree. The top wire-bending expert would be offered the chair and become Professor of Wire Bending.

: : A little different here in the US. Professor is the top rank among the Very rank-conscious faculties of universities ... but being the Chairman of a Department is not quite the same thing as being offered a Chair. Wealthy alumnus Joe Gotrocks gets his arm twisted by the University President (that's his #1 job) and Joe writes a nice, fat check for say, a million dollars. That's not enough to build a building, so Joe's ego can't swell as he walks past the Gotrocks Center for Wirebending Studies ... but a million is enough to endow a Chair. The interest on the million is enough to pay a handsome salary to Professor Schmoe, luring him away from Rival U., so he can become the Gotrocks Professor of Wirebending. It's his title, and signifies his worth-the-extra-dough value of his wirebending wizardry, the generosity of the Gotrocks family, and the ingenious trick of hanging a plaque on thin air to make everyone happy.

: It's always a dogfight to get to be a department chairperson ... and it often turns into too much work, and less pleasure than one imagined, so it's not the Holy Grail of Academe. But ... being offered a Chair, which imposes few obligations (an extra lecture here and there - no department management!) and which revolves around prestige -- that's the bee's knees.

I think it originates from the Middle East in the dark ages, where the 'lecturer' in the university sat in the chair and his students gathered around, listened and learned. To be offered the chair was a recognition of great learning and an invitation to pass that knowledge on.