AskDefine | Define privatdocent

Extensive Definition

Private docent (abbreviates P.D. or Priv.-Doz.) is a title conferred in some European university systems, especially in German-speaking countries, for someone who wants to become a university professor.


Privatedocentship is conferred to academics who have earned a doctorate (promotion) and then have written another thesis for habilitation and given a lecture before the respective department or faculty of a university. If they pass the vote after that lecture, they receive the venia legendi (or, rarely, venia docendi) and thus the status of P.D., roughly equivalent to the status of an associate professorship. This means they can — and actually have to — teach at the respective institution; they also may advise on theses for promotion. However, they do not have a formal position and traditionally did not receive a salary (only fees for the specific lectures or classes they taught). Today, however, private docents are usually (modestly) paid.
Professors at a Fachhochschule, as well as honorary professors (see professor), do not need habilitation and thus were never private docents. The same is true for professors in the fine arts at academies or similar institutions, as well as in certain other disciplines even at universities, such as engineering.


Contrary to academic titles proper, one loses the P.D. title aspect (but not the venia and the habilitation), either by being called to a professorship, which is the goal of the P.D., or by ceasing to teach. The withdrawal of the P.D., the so-called "remotion", is very rare and usually happens in case of extremely serious offenses; a famous case was Eugen Dühring. However, during Nazi times, most if not all Jewish private docents were remoted according to the Nuremberg Laws.
Academics who stay in academe although they didn't obtain a professorship are, slightly dismissively, often called "ewige Privatdozenten" (eternal private docents); if they are popular, they may receive either a salaried permanent staff appointment (where those still exist) as lecturer or equivalent, and/or the purely honorific title of "außerplanmäßiger Professor" (abbreviated "apl. Prof.").

History and future

The institution of private docent started around 1810 in Prussia and became established only around 1860. After that, for many years, habilitation remained cumulative, i.e. it was based on already-published work, not a new monograph. The heyday of privatedocentship lasted approximately from 1900 until 1968, when hardly a university professor in a normal field was appointed who had not been a private docent.
During the university reforms beginning in 1968, in order to quickly broaden the professorial base for the many newly opened and expanding universities, often professors were appointed who were not private docents as well. This was also seen as a political act to counter the alleged inherent conservatism and reactionary views of the German professoriate.
The life of the private docent is very unsatisfactory (Georg Simmel called the time "the purgatory of P.D.-ship"), because a private docent in Germany is generally highly qualified, tends to be around 40 and often has a family, yet no salary or status to speak of. (This is only true in the rare case that the private docent is not holder of a paid position as Hochschulassistent, Hochschuldozent or Akademischer Rat; the salary of these positions is comparable with the salary of American assistant professors.) In addition, the institution indubitably contributes strongly to the "overagedness" of the German senior academic staff. Thus, there have always been reform attempts to abolish the position, and in 2002 a limited number of "junior professorships" were introduced which are fast-track, time-limited positions to qualify for regular professorships. This is often seen as the "beginning of the end" of privatedocentship. One can say in general that supporters of the institution of privatedocentship in Germany today belong to the more conservative camp in academic policy, while its detractors tend to be more left or liberal in outlook.
privatdocent in German: Privatdozent
privatdocent in French: Privat-docent
privatdocent in Dutch: Privaatdocent
privatdocent in Japanese: 私講師
privatdocent in Polish: Privatdozent
privatdocent in Portuguese: Privatdozent
privatdocent in Russian: Приват-доцент
privatdocent in Swedish: Privatdocent
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