Working title?

February 3, 2011

John Warren says the now ubiquitous title "professor" is "associated with the publication of highly regarded papers in increasingly narrow fields" ("Here a prof, there a prof", Opinion, January). I wish it were so. His disapproving claim that professors are no longer polymaths but extreme specialists is also very optimistic. The situation in the UK is actually much more serious.

The award of a professorship should follow outstanding research (and not in pseudo-academic subjects). What we have seen instead over the past 20 years is the preposterous proliferation of quack management professors with negligible research records. I wonder how many of today's professors offered nothing to their institutions for consideration in the research assessment exercise 2008.

This is largely a problem of the post-92 sector, where in some cases, to make matters worse, "me, too" management professors have started to think along the lines of "me, only", and - with ironic snobbery - restricted opportunities for real academics to be rewarded through objective application processes.

Readerships are not such a problem - they are not attractive to managers because they do not give a handle to one's name; and it is therefore not surprising that in these times the academic criteria for appointment to a readership are sometimes much more demanding than they are for a professorship.

What will be the long-term effect of the "management professors" on perceptions of the quality and status of UK higher education? The only recourse now is to ask of a professorship or a readership: "What was it for and where was it awarded?"

David Wilson, Dalston, Cumbria

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