PROFESSOR (the Latin noun formed from the verb profiteri, to declare publicly, to acknowledge, profess), a term now properly confined to a teacher of a special grade at a university. Its former significance of one who has made " profession " or open acknowledgment of religious belief, or, in particular, has made a promise binding the maker to a religious order, is now obsolete. The educational use is found in post-Augustan Latin, and profiteri is used by Pliny (Ep. ii. 18, 3, iv. n, 14), absolutely, in the sense of " to be a teacher," an extension of the classical use in the sense of to practise, profess a science or art, e.g. profiteri jus, medicinam, philosophiam, etc. In the universities of the middle ages the conferring of a degree in any faculty or branch of learning meant the right or qualification to teach in that faculty, whence the terms magister, " master," and doctor for those on whom the degree had been granted. To these names must be added that of " professor." The " three titles of Master, Doctor, Professor, were in the middle ages absolutely synonymous " (H. Rashdall, The Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages, 1895, i- 21). At Paris in the faculties of theology, medicine and arts professor is more frequently used than doctor but less so than magister; at Bologna the teachers of law are known as professores or doctores (id.). From this position to that of the holder of an endowed " chair," the occupant of which is the principal public teacher of the particular faculty, the evolution was gradual. The first endowed professorship at Oxford was that of divinity, founded by the mother of Henry VII. in 1497 (? 1502) and named after her the " Margaret Professorship." The foundation of the regius professorship by Henry VIII., in 1546 no doubt, as the New English Dictionary points out, tended to the general modern use of the word. Subordinate public teachers in faculties or in subjects to which a professorial " chair " is attached, are known as " readers " or " lecturers," and these titles are also used for the principal public teachers in subjects which have not reached professorial rank.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)