Professor Emerita is the title given to a female professor who has retired in honorable standing but still keeps the title of “professor” she held directly before retirement. Emerita is the female form of emeritus. Although universities once considered it standard practice to call a retired professor--male or female--of good standing a professor emeritus, an increasing number of universities now use the title professor emerita to refer to a retired female professor and the title professor emeritus for retired males: for example, Mary Smith, Professor Emerita from Andover College.
It's In The Name
The adjective "emerita” is derived from a Latin word meaning "to earn through service." A professor emerita is also called "emerita professor," a slightly less formal term. Although certain traditional universities resisted the shift to professor emerita, the rise of feminism prompted many professionals of all kinds to re-think their vocabulary and to signal the difference between male and female. In general, university style guides across the U.S. and Great Britain now advise faculty and staff to use "emeritus" for a man and "emerita" for a woman
How Professors Merit "Emerita"
Universities differ widely on what standards they use for awarding emerita/emeritus and on the privileges and benefits the title confers. Generally, this distinction is given to faculty to honor their service to the institution upon retirement. In some cases, this status requires confirmation from departmental faculty, chair or Dean of the college. Although the title is frequently given to full professors, a retired assistant or associate professor may receive it as well.
Professors emeritae receive a variety of benefits as a result of their status. Access to university facilities, technology services and admission to campus events are common advantages. Many institutions offer free parking and a campus office to encourage continued campus involvement. Professors emeritae sometimes leave their universities and take positions elsewhere in the outside world--carrying the title with them.
Many universities expect a professor emerita to continue to teach courses at the undergraduate and graduate level, to act as an expert or adviser in her field and to occupy an office on campus. While they don't have required office hours, they're often called upon for their advice an counsel.
The use of the title emerita in higher education reflects an expanding acceptance of the term in other fields. Today, even in the business world, the term emerita frequently accompanies the title of a woman retired from active employment who maintains the title of her position and some of its perks and privileges: for example, Mary Smith, Vice-President emerita. The increasing popularity of the term emerita is evident even in the female-owned company Emerita, which markets health products for older women.
Based in Virginia, Kit Garfield has been writing articles on American literature and culture since 1993. Her articles have appeared in “Arizona Quarterly,” “Cambridge Studies in American Culture,” and “Women and Modernity.” She has also edited education, food and public health publications. She holds a Ph.D. in English from University of Virginia.