For anyone on a university campus for awhile, it’s clear that endowed chairs are something important. They’re usually the most well-known and accomplished professors, and they have a longer title than everyone else.
However, for most people, it’s not really clear exactly what is an endowed chair and why it matters. There are also misconceptions over how endowed chair positions are funded.
An endowed chair or endowed professorship is a position that is funded by a donation to the university. The position can be funded either in part or in whole, but they are often only funded in part.
The money isn’t directly used to pay for the professor’s salary. Instead, the money is invested by the university and the interest that results goes toward paying for the professor’s salary each year.
Because it is often difficult to get a donation big enough to fully cover a professor’s salary (one economics professor at a public university threw out the ballpark figure of $6 million as the amount necessary to fully cover an endowed chair position), establishing a new endowed chair position means the university has to pay a sizeable chunk of the costs of the position.
However, endowed chairs are important to a university because they are often higher paid than regular faculty positions. This means the university can use the position to draw more accomplished or famous professors than it would otherwise be able to. These professors are often expected to do research as a large part of their duties (as opposed to primarily teaching classes). Through their research, they are expected to draw grants and other types of funding to the university, as well as increasing the university’s standing because of the ground-breaking research they conduct.
The students can also benefit, because they will have the opportunity to associate with experts in their chosen field. They might have the endowed chair professor for a class, or they might be able to conduct research with the professor.
In conclusion, the endowed chair positions at a university are often not well understood by those not directly involved in the process. The funding for these positions is also more complicated than many would think.
Instead of just being a simple gift from a generous donor, these positions require the university to pay a lot of the costs for the endowed chair. Some universities have even been unable to hire professors for endowed chair positions because of budgetary issues.