Academic Who's Who

Professors and deans and registrars and teaching assistants and instructors—who is responsible for what? Understanding who's who at a university can give you an idea of where to go when you have a problem.

In general, if you are having difficulties with a class or a grade, you should talk to the person teaching the class. If you have a problem with your schedule or getting into a class, talk to the administrative assistant in the department office, who can give you advice on the best person to talk to. If you have a problem with a faculty member that you cannot resolve with the faculty member him/herself, you should talk to the Chair of the department. To make an appointment with the Chair, talk to the administrative assistant in the office.

Here's a quick guide to the faculty and administration of the university.


Graduate Assistants

Graduate assistants are students studying for MAs, MFAs or PhDs who work part time for their departments in exchange for tuition and a salary. Beginning graduate assistants may be assigned to help faculty members with research or grading. Graduate assistants, typically those who are more advanced, may teach their own classes.

Adjunct Instructors

Adjunct instructors are hired to teach individual classes in their areas of expertise, but are not full-time faculty members at the University. Typically, adjunct faculty members are not around campus as much as full-time faculty and staff, but they do have campus email addresses for communication. 


Instructors are teaching-heavy faculty who are not required to do research in their field. They typically teach four classes a semester and are on a limited contract (that does not include the possibility of tenure). They may or may not have a PhD, but they have earned a Masters degree and have taken enough courses in the particular field to be prepared to teach at the college level. Although not tenured, some instructors at Southern Miss teach for many years.

Visiting Professors

Visiting professors may be any rank from assistant professor to full professor, but they are on a temporary contract and are not part of the tenure-track faculty body. Having visiting professors allows departments to bring in experts in specialty areas to teach for a short period of time and to offer additional classes during semesters with heavy enrollment.

Professors (Assistant, Associate, and Full)

Virtually all faculty start out as Assistant Professors. They have earned a terminal degree in their field (typically a PhD or MFA). As they advance in their careers and contribute significantly to their fields through research and creative activity, they advance to Associate Professors. If they continue to do significant research, they may be promoted to Full Professor, indicating that they have achieved visibility and excellence in their field.

Administrative Assistants/Office Managers/Program Coordinators

All academic departments have a staff person in the department office who takes care of a lot of the day-to-day business of the department. One of the most important functions the staff serve is to help students navigate the department, so you should make a point of getting to know the staff person in your major department. If he/she can't help you directly with a problem, he/she will know who you need to talk to and what the best way to approach the problem is.


Chairs/Directors are faculty members who have been appointed by their college Deans to lead their departments, typically after nomination by the faculty members in their unit. Chairs/Directors are responsible for many different administrative duties, including helping with unit growth and success, recruiting and supporting all the faculty in the unit, managing the budget, developing the curriculum, working with the Dean on policies and needs of the unit, and serving as liaisons between the faculty and the upper administration.   

Undergraduate Directors

Departments and Schools have Undergraduate Directors who support the needs of undergraduate students. The Directors’ role may include helping students with changing their majors, figuring out transfer credits, working with students to develop strategies for grade improvement, and helping with development of courses and course scheduling. Units vary in the specific duties, but each unit has a particular faculty member assigned to this role.


Deans are the lead administrators for the colleges. The University of Southern Mississippi has six academic colleges: Arts and Letters, Business, Education and Psychology, Health, Nursing, and Science and Technology. Each Dean manages the faculty and staff in their college, budgets, planning, and more, working with the upper administration and with Department Chairs/Directors to meet college goals. Deans often have Assistant or Associate Deans who are responsible for particular areas in the college, such as faculty research or student recruitment and retention.


The Registrar is responsible for all the academic records at the university, and oversees scheduling and transcripts, among many other things. 


The Provost is the chief academic officer of the university. He or she is responsible for all the academic programs on campus, and works closely with Chairs, Deans, and other administrators to make sure we are offering our students a great education. 


The President is the person responsible for providing a strategic vision for the university, something he/she does in consultation with faculty, staff, administrators and students. He or she is responsible for pushing university initiatives (such as raising retention rates or increasing the university's online presence), fundraising, and meeting with state lawmakers to advance the interests of the university.