Of course the exact status of the title has changed in different places and times.

I mean it most specifically in the sense of Emmy Noether's title at Georg-August-Universität Göttingen in 1923: nicht beamteter Außerordentlicher Professor. But I doubt there is a standard translation for that specific situation.

My question is, as in the title, is there a current, standard English translation of the basic phrase Außerordentlicher Professor?

By a standard translation I mean one that is currently in widespread use, in contrast to one that I or another person thinks should be an accurate way to describe the position.

However, a look at the confusion of the English language Wikipedia Ranks in Germany convinces me there is none so I was in process of deleting this question when an answer appeared. Now I will wait and see what happens,

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    Can you either 1) elaborate what that title meant and entailed or 2) what you would consider as “standard”?
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 4:50
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    One thing of note - on the one hand you mention Emmy Noether in the year 1923 and on the other you want a current translation. Which is it? Are you interested in what Emmy's position was, or what today the position of an "Außerordentlicher Professor" would be? Also, are you specifically looking for Germany, or also for other countries with that title, such as Austria?
    – xLeitix
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 6:00
  • @xLeitix It is as I said in the question, I am asking for a current standard translation. I seriously doubt that there is one such for Germany and another such for Austria. Indeed I now doubt there is one for either country. I know very well what Emmy's position was, i am interested in how best to describe it concisely in a book chapter. Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 6:05

3 Answers 3


First, the expression "außerordentlicher Professor" is no longer in current widespread use in Germany (although still understood; the exception is, as so often, Bavaria); a non-ordinary professor position is now usually referred to as "W2" (after the pay scale) or, in some states, "W3 ohne Leitungsfunktion". Most people who now hold such a position would translate it as "associate professor", although there are a number of significant differences between the positions that make this translation misleading in some regards.

It is also a very different position from the one Emmy Noether held (which was unpaid, for a start). In fact, Emmy Noether's position was actually that of an "außerplanmäßiger Professor", a title given to tenured university assistants after their habilitation, which entails most of the academic, but very few of the administrative, rights of a university professor. (The "nicht beamtet" previously disambiguated the two positions; the title was renamed during the Nazi regime.) This position -- which no longer exists in the German system, and, confusingly, was called "außerordentlicher Professor" (and now "assoziierter Professor") in the Austrian system -- has no analogue outside the very hierarchical traditional German system. Hence there is no canonical translation; if pushed, I would translate it either as "tenured research assistant" or "lecturer" (if there is no danger of confusion with the UK title, which would give the wrong idea), both capturing (different) aspects of the position.

Especially in a historical work, I would therefore do exactly what the English wikipedia article on Emmy Noether does -- use the original German title and give a parenthetical explanation:

the title of nicht beamteter ausserordentlicher Professor (an untenured professor with limited internal administrative rights and functions)

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    I think one can not get more accurate than this on this complicated issue. +1
    – Dirk
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 12:56

The concept of Ordinariat (a Latin word used in the German-speaking academic circles) is similar to the English chair. A non-ordinary professor is a professor who does not have the responsibility of a chair.

So that would translate often to "associate professor" depending on the individual situation and local practice.

Keep in mind that since academic hierarchy varies a lot between countries and that it is not always possible to translate positions, and that is not a question of language. In doubt the safest thing would be to use the original title.

  • Thanks. The variation between your first and second answers exactly matches the ambiguities of the English Wikipedia article which had me on the verge of deleting the question. Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 6:07
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    Pet peeve (+1 for not making that mistake): While "Ordinarius" indeed corresponds to "ordinary" in English (as a noun), this is not cognate with "standard, usual" but has a more direct common root with "ordained" -- an ordinary is someone who has ordinary power (as in civic authority in a church order), and hence a "Professor extraordinarius" ("außerordentlicher Professor") would be someone outside the ranks with ordinary power. Hence, a "non-ordinary" but not "extraordinary professor" (which would translate as "außergewöhnlicher Professor"). Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 6:44
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    As a side note, the translation of "außerordentlicher Professor" on the web page of the university in question also goes with "associate professor": uni-goettingen.de/en/74993.html (compare german/english versions)
    – BPND
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 7:27
  • @ColinMcLarty I edited mostly to remove ambiguity. Ordinary professors "have tenure" in the Anglo-Saxon sense but most non-ordinary profs. also do. So the chair thing is really what's making the difference.
    – Cape Code
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 10:30
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    @ChristianClason I though a non-ordinary professor would be a "Unordentlicher Professor"… But we better keep quiet before this thread get mirgrated to german.stackexchange.com
    – Dirk
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 13:40

As a counterpoint to Cape Code's answer, in Austria an Außerordentlicher Professor generally has tenure, at least in the sense that her or is position is not time-bound. The main difference here is that a "full" professor holds a chair ("Lehrstuhl") and has been appointed through a (nowadays international) faculty search with all its formal procedure. An Außerordentlicher Professor has often held a long-term postdoc in the same university when (s)he applied and received "Habilitation", and has been made Außerordentlicher Professor and received tenure as part of standard habilitation practices.

An Außerordentlicher Professor formally holds no chair and is instead associated to a specific chair in the university hierarchy, although what this means in practice varies widely given that an Außerordentlicher Professor is still a professor with all the guaranteed independence of teaching and research. The widely accepted English translation is "Associate Professor", although this transports the (wrong) message that Außerordentlicher Professor is an intermediary career step from which there is a clear progression to a chaired professorship. Instead, many (or in some institutions, most) researchers who become Außerordentlicher Professor remain in this position for life.

In Austria, this position is now widely considered a legacy of former times. Automatic promotion to tenured Außerordentlicher Professor when successfully defending a habilitation is as a practice discontinued in most departments, and there is no formal way to become Außerordentlicher Professor in the traditional sense otherwise. Many departments nowadays use this title much more in line with the US meaning. That is, younger new hires sometimes are hired on the rank Außerordentlicher Professor, with a an agreed-up promotion to regular professor after an evaluation phase (e.g., 5 years).

  • That is actually not (always) true -- speaking from experience, an "ao.Prof." (and more recently, "Assoz.-Prof." -- some universities have reinstated that system under a new name) is part of the "Mittelbau", not the professorial curia; they are the highest rank of tenured assistants. So while from the point of independence of teaching and research they are indeed equal to a full (chaired or non-chaired) professor, they are treated differently by the administration (no possibilities for negotiations, for example). How much difference this makes in practice depends on the individual department. Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 6:53
  • Which doesn't actually contradict most of your answer... (Although I'm very surprised to read the last paragraph, which is in direct contradiction to everything I know about the Austrian system (as opposed to the Swiss system, where this is indeed common practice, at least at the ETHs). But, academia varies, so...) Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 7:12
  • Here's the key point: An Austrian "außerordentlicher Professor" ("ao.Prof.") is not an Extraordinarius (which is just "Univ.-Prof.", in contrast to an ordinary professor's "o.Univ.-Prof."), but corresponds to an "außerplanmäßiger Professor" ("apl.-Prof.", a title granted to tenured assistants with habilitation) in the German system. Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 7:25

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