Professor Is Not Higher Than A PhD

This article is an updated version of an earlier post I wrote on Facebook, which has been widely circulated on various social media platforms in Ghana. It appears that people are still confused.

There is no qualification higher than a Doctorate. A Doctorate is a terminal degree, whereas Professor is a rank related to university teaching. People with Doctorate often use the title “Doctor.”

Keep in mind that there degrees which have the term “Doctor” in their titles, such as the Juris Doctor (common in the US, Canada, Australia, Mexico and parts of Asia), the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) or the Doctor of Pharmacy (DPharm) and the US and Canada version of the Doctor of Medicine (MD).

These degrees are generally not classified as PhDs as they lack that vital component that defines the PhD: academic research.

The most common form of the Doctorate we all know is PhD. PhD is short for Doctor of Philosophy.

This is an academic or professional degree that, in most countries, qualifies the degree holder to teach their chosen subject at the university level or to work in a specialized position in their chosen field.

A PhD is a globally recognized postgraduate academic degree awarded by universities and higher education institutions to a candidate who has submitted a thesis or dissertation, based on extensive and original research in their chosen field.
The specificities of PhD degrees vary depending on where you are and what subject you’re studying. In general, however, the PhD is the highest level of degree a student can achieve (with some exceptions).

In addition to various degrees which may be considered equivalent to a PhD, there are also some ‘higher doctorate’ courses considered to be a step above the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). These are most common in UK universities and some European countries, although they are increasingly awarded as honorary degrees. The US does not have a system of higher doctorates and offer the titles solely as honorary degrees. Honorary degrees are sometimes signified by adding ‘h.c’ (for honoris causa) to the end of the degree title.

Some higher doctorate degrees include:

a. Doctor of Science (DS/SD): Awarded in recognition of a substantial and sustained contribution to scientific knowledge beyond that required for a PhD.
b. Doctor of Literature/Letters (DLit/DLitt/LitD): Awarded in recognition of achievement in the humanities or for original contribution to the creative arts.
c. Doctor of Divinity (DD): Awarded above the Doctor of Theology (DTh), usually to recognize the recipient’s ministry-oriented accomplishments.
d. Doctor of Music (DMus): Awarded in the UK, Ireland and some Commonwealth countries based on a substantial portfolio of compositions and/or scholarly publications on music.
e. Doctor of Civil Law (DCL): Highest Doctorate excepting the DD, offered on the basis of exceptionally insightful and distinctive publications that contain significant and original contributions to the study of law or politics in general.
Again, do not confuse Post-Doc with being a degree higher than a PhD. Most people who are not in academia know what a PhD is, but often confused about what Post-Doc is. Post-Doc is a temporary position that allows PhD holders to continue their training as researchers and gain skills and experience to prepare them for their academic career. In many occasions also, experienced researchers have worked as post-doctoral fellows.

Do not confuse Professor to be a terminal degree. In Ghana, University Academic Staff Ranks are Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Associate Professor and Professor. Mostly, the entry-level for academic staff with a PhD is Lecturer as National Accreditation Board seeks to make PhD the minimum qualification for teaching at the University.

In some cases, where it is difficult to come by PhD, Master of Philosophy (M.Phil.) is allowed in lieu of a PhD. Assistant Lecturer rank has been introduced for those with a master’s entry. Elsewhere, like in the US, Canada and UK, Assistant Professor, Associate Professor and Professor seems to be the various ranks.

Previously, in universities in Ghana, you didn’t need a PhD to be promoted to the rank of Professor. However, in recent times, it appears your rank may end at Senior Lecturer in Ghanaian Universities if you don’t have a PhD. There are many Professors without PhD.

Prof Joseph Magnus Frimpong of KNUST was promoted to Associate Professor in 2010 and obtained his PhD in 2013. Prof William Gariba Akanwariwiak of KNUST is Associate Professor without a PhD. Prof (Mrs) Nana Afia Amponsaa Opoku- Asare, a member of NaCCA Board is Associate Professor without a PhD.

Prof Edward Marfo-Yiadom of UCC is an Associate Professor without a PhD. Prof. James Boachie-Ansah of UG is a Professor without a PhD. Prof Henrietta Joy Abena Nyarko Mensa-Bonsu of UG, now Supreme Court Justice is a Professor without PhD. These are few whose public records are available.

The desire of every academic teaching staff may be to attain the rank of Professorial. The benefits of such rank both in academia and outside the academic field are enormous. In active service, the highest rank in the University for teaching staff is the Professor. For the purpose of oral communication, Associate Professors are called “Profs” just like Full Professors are called. For instance, Yaw Gyampo (PhD) of the Department of Political Science, UG has a public record that shows he is at the rank of Associate Professor. But he is mostly referred to as “Prof” Yaw Gyampo, while at the University it will be written as Assoc. Prof Yaw Gyampo, to show a clear distinction between Associate Professor rank and Professor rank. In some countries, Associate Professors with a PhD stick to the use of “Doctor” in oral communication, so they don’t confuse the public with their status.

Over the years, the requirements for promotion of university academic staff have changed with some little variations among universities in Ghana and abroad. However, the three main areas of assessment of promotion are contribution to knowledge in the form of academic research and publication, year of service including teaching and supervision of students, and service to community including the University and works outside the University that uplift the image of the University.

Let us also not confuse Professor as a professional title with Professor as a promotional rank. It appears in the US anyone teaching in the University is called a Professor whereas in Ghana and UK they are called Lecturers.

It is actually inappropriate for anyone to compare Professor to PhD as if both are academic qualifications. It even more unacceptable to suggest that, a person who has worked throughout his or her life in the academia and has been promoted to the rank of Professor is more qualified than someone who has worked in the industry and also gone through his or her ranks. Both have different promotional titles.

While Field Marshal is the highest rank in the British Army, Professor is the highest rank for university Academic Staff. And so is like suggesting that a Professor is more qualified than a Field Marshal. A person might have risen through the ranks of Lieutenant to the rank of Field Marshal.

Similarly, a person might have risen through the ranks of Lecturer to Full Professor. Both have made a significant contribution and impacted heavily in their respective fields of endeavour. We cannot, therefore, say a Professor is higher than or qualified than the Field Marshal.

Let us, for instance, take two persons (A and B). Both have PhD degrees. ‘A’ works in academia. As part of his work, he is supposed to teach, research and publish to warrant his promotion to Professor.’B’ extensively works in the industry and doing what he is expected to do to earn his promotion, and even goes to the extent of publishing books, book chapters, conference papers and refereed journal articles, except that he is not in academia to submit for assessment and promotion.

Under the circumstances, can we say ‘A’ is more qualified than ‘B’ or ‘A’ is higher than ‘B’? No. Both have the same academic qualification and work in different industries. Both have extensively impacted and contributed to their fields.

Perhaps, if ‘B’ had worked in academia, he would publish more than ‘A’ and also attain Professorial rank.

‘A’ can only say he is higher than ‘B’, if ‘B’ works in academia and is of any rank lower than ‘A’. even that, both have same academic qualification, but different rank in the University. Now let’s take a full Professor with PhD and a full Professor without PhD. Both professors are the same when it comes to their rank in the University. But the one with the PhD is academically qualified than the one without a PhD.

It must even be added that, in some cases, a Professor with PhD may enjoy some privileges over a Professor without PhD. In Some Universities both in Ghana and outside Ghana, a Professor without PhD is not allowed to supervise PhD students or be part of examiners for PhD students, while a Senior Lecturer with PhD is allowed to supervise and examine PhD students.

And again, we have to stop equating Honorary Doctorate to PhD. The misinformation is becoming too many. Honorary Doctorate of Letters is not equivalent to PhD. It is a way of a university saying “Thank you” to someone for the person’s contribution to a certain field. In fact, some even give it to people that have made huge donations to the University. University for Development Studies (UDS) said thank you to Former President H.E Jerry John Rawlings. There is however misuse of honorary doctorates.

People often use the “Doctor” title after it has been honoured without any distinction, therefore, creating confusion among the minds of people. There is actually no fast rule whether to use “Doctor” or not to use. While those in academia do not feel comfortable, those outside take pride in the title. However, a distinction must be drawn in its usage. For instance, Kwesi Mensa honoured with Honorary Doctor of Science could write Dr. (h.c) Kwesi Mensa or Dr. h.c. Kwesi Mensa. If Kwesi Mensa earned through academic work, it could be written Dr. Kwesi Mensa or Dr. Kwesi Mensa, D.Sc. or Kwesi Mensa, D.Sc.

We, however, cannot equate Honorary Doctorate of Letters to PhD. Let us also be in the known that, just like there are Honorary Doctorate of Letters, there is also Honorary Professor, Honorary Associate Professor, Honorary Assistant Professor. These have been in the past awarded to people in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, UK and many other countries. There is also Emeritus awarded to retired professors for their distinguished service to the University. Let us not also that, not all retired professors are emeritus. It must be awarded by the University with requirements and conditions. Few of emeritus in Ghana include; Daasebre prof emeritus Emmanuel Oti-Boateng, Omanhene of New Juaben Traditional Council; Prof emeritus Stephen Adei of Ashesi University; Prof emeritus Keshaw Singh of Kessben University College. Because Prof emeritus is not awarded in active service, it may be misleading to compare that with Professor in active service. Some have even been awarded emeritus who are not retired professors, but have made a significant contribution to the University.

So, for instance, if someone has four Honorary Doctorates it doesn’t mean the person has four PhDs. In a nutshell, Professor is not higher than a PhD.

The writer, Richard Apau, is a PhD Candidate in Computer Science, rich4u34@yahoo.com

Leave a Reply