Religion Wiki

The word rector ("ruler," from the Latin regere and rector meaning "teacher" in Latin) has a number of different meanings; they indicate an academic, religious or political administrator. The word is related to rectrix ("helmsman"), one of a bird's tail feathers.

The term and office of a rector are called a rectorate.

"Rector" is also a surname in English-speaking countries and in some other languages.

Academic rectors

The rector is the highest academic official of many universities and certain other institutions of higher, sometimes even secondary, education.

The title is used widely in universities across Europe, including Albania, the Benelux, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Scandinavia, Scotland, Serbia, Spain, Turkey and Ukraine. It is also very common in Latin American countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela, and also in Pakistan, Philippines, Indonesia and Israel. At some universities it is phrased in a loftier manner, as Rector Magnificus or Lord Rector.

A notable exception to this terminology was England, where universities were traditionally headed by a "Chancellor", and this designation followed in the Commonwealth, USA and other countries under Anglo-Saxon influence. Scotland follows suit in this practice, with the ancient universities being headed by a Chancellor, with the Lord Rector as an elected representative of students heading the university court.

Academic rectors in Europe

As in many European institutions, the head of German universities is called president, rector magnificus (men) or rectrix magnifica (women), as in some Belgian universities (notably the oldest and largest, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven). In Dutch universities the rector magnificus is the most publicly prominent member of the board, responsible for the scientific agenda of the university. The rector is however not the chair of the board. The chair has, in practice, the most influence over the ruling of the University.

In some countries, including Germany, the position of head teacher in a secondary school is also designated as Rector, however, the position of head teacher in a German Gymnasium school is called Studiendirektor or Oberstudiendirektor. In the Netherlands, Rector and Conrector (assistant head) is used commonly for high school director. The same goes for some Maltese secondary schools.

In the Scandinavian countries, the head of universities and gymnasiums (upper secondary schools) is called rektor. In Sweden and Norway this also applies to primary schools.

In the Iberian Peninsula, Portugal's and Spain's heads or presidents of a university, are titled Magnífico Reitor/Rector Magnífico, and are usually styled, in official ceremonies, with the denomination of "Most Excellent and Illustrious Sir or Lord." For example, in Portugal, the rector of the University of Coimbra, the oldest Portuguese university, is referred to as Magnífico Reitor Professor Doutor (Rector's name) ("Rector Magnificus Professor Doctor (Rector's Name)"). In Spain, the Rector of the University of Salamanca, the oldest in the Iberian Peninsula, is usually styled under academic protocol as Excelentísimo e Ilustrísimo Señor Profesor Doctor Don (Rector's name), Rector Magnífico de la Universidad de Salamanca ("The Most Excellent and Most Illustrious Lord Professor Doctor Don (Rector's name), Rector Magnificus of the University of Salamanca").


At Oxford and Cambridge, English universities which are formally headed by chancellors, most colleges are headed by a master or a principal as chief academic. At a few colleges, this role is instead played by a president or a warden; and at two of the Oxford colleges - Lincoln College and Exeter College - the head is called a rector.

At the University of London there is a Chancellor (a ceremonial post) and a Vice-Chancellor (equivalent to Managing Director). All colleges have a chief academic as head, under various titles. At University College London, the head is the Provost; at King's College London the head is the Principal; at Imperial College London the head is the Rector; and at the London School of Economics the Director is head.

At most other universities in England the Chancellor is the ceremonial head whilst the Vice-Chancellor is the chief academic. The Vice-Chancellor of Liverpool Hope University also takes the role of Rector.


In Danish, rektor is the title of the head of universities, gymnasiums, Schools of Commerce and Construction etc. Generally rektor may be used for the head of any educational institution at levels above Primary School, in which the head commonly is referred to as 'skoleinspektør' (Headmaster; Inspector of the school). In universities, the second ranked official of governance is known as prorektor.


In Greece, a rector (in Greek: Πρύτανης, 'Prytanis') is the head of any state university or polytechnic school (AEI institutions), while the head of the technical education institutions (TEI), is called 'president'.


A rektor is the headmaster or headmistress of Icelandic Universities and of some Gymnasiums.


In Italy the rector ( Rettore) is the head of the university and Legale Rappresentante of the university he or she is elected by an electoral body composed of all Professori ordinari and Associati the two highest ranks of the Italian university teacher and a representatives of Ricercatori (a lowest rank of teachers) and workers of the university.

The term of the rettore usually is long 4 or 5 years following the statuto (constitution of the university). The Rettore is also named Magnifico Rettore.


A rektor is the headmaster of a primary school, secondary school, private school, high school, college or university.


In Scotland, the position of rector exists in the four ancient universities (St Andrews, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh) and at Dundee, which is considered to have ancient status as a result of its early connections to St. Andrews University.

The post (officially Lord Rector, but by normal use just Rector) was made an integral part of these universities by the Universities (Scotland) Act 1889. The nominal head of an ancient university in Scotland is its Chancellor and the day-to-day functions of the chief executive is vested in the Vice-Chancellor who also holds the title of Principal. The Rector is the third ranked official of university governance and chairs meetings of the University Court, the governing body of the university, and is elected at regular intervals (usually three years to enable every undergraduate who obtains a degree to vote at least once) by their matriculated student bodies.

This role is considered by many students to be integral to their ability to shape the universities' agendas and it is one of the main functions of the Rector to represent the interests of the students. To some extent the office has evolved into more of a figurehead role, with a significant number of celebrities elected as Rectors, such as Stephen Fry and Lorraine Kelly at Dundee, Clarissa Dickson Wright at Aberdeen, and John Cleese and Frank Muir at St. Andrews, and political figures, such as Mordechai Vanunu at Glasgow. In many cases, particularly with high-profile Rectors, attendance at the University Court in person is rare, however the Rector nominates another individual (usually a student) to exercise his functions under the title of Rector's Assessor.

Gordon Brown, the current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, was Rector of the University of Edinburgh while a student there, but since then most universities have amended their procedures to forbid currently matriculated students from standing for election.

The head teacher of a Scottish secondary school is in many cases known as its Rector.


In Spain, Rector or Rector Magnífico (magnific rector, from Latin Rector Magnificus) is the highest administrative and educational office in a university, equivalent to that of President or Chancellor of an English-speaking university, but holding all the powers of a vice-chancellor; they are thus the head of the academi in Universities. Formally styled as "Excelentísimo e Ilustrísimo Señor Profesor Doctor Don N, Rector Magnífico de la Universidad de X" (Most Excellent and Ilustrius Lord Professor Doctor Don N, Rector Magnificus of the University of X), it is an office of high dignity within Spanish society, being usually highly respected. It is not strange to see them in the media, specially when some academic-like subject is being discussed and their opinion is requested.

Spanish Rectors are chosen from within the body of university full Professors (Catedráticos in Spanish); it is compulsory for the would-be rector to have been a Doctor for at least 6 years before his election, and had achieved the Professor status, holding it in the same university for which he is running. Usually, when running for the election the rector will have to have chosen the vice-rectors (vicerrectores in Spanish) that will take the several suboffices in the university. Rectors are elected directly by free and secret universal suffrage of all the members of the University, including students, lecturers, readers, researchers, civil servants,... However, the weight of the votes of each academic sector is different: students votes usually weights 20% of the whole, no matter how many students are; members of what formerly was known as the Claustro (cloister, the whole group of Professors) and Readers' vote usually represents about 40-50% of the total; lecturers, researchers (including PhD students, etc.) and non-doctor teachers about 20% of the total; and the remaining (usually a 5-10%) is left for non scholarly workers (people in administration,...) in the University. The Spanish law allows those percentages to be changed according to the situation of each university, and even not to have a direct election system. Indeed, in some few universities the Rector is chosen indirectly, firstly choosing the members of the modern Claustro, a some short of parliament in which all the abovementioned groups are represented, and then being the Claustro the one that chooses the Rector.

Rectors hold their office for 4 years before another election happens, and there's no limit to have many times one can be elected. However, only the most charismatic and respected rectors have been able to hold their office for more than two or three tenures. Of those, some have been notable Spanish scholars, such as Basque writer Miguel de Unamuno, Rector of the University of Salamanca from 1901 till 1936.


Rektor is the title for the highest ranked administrative and educational leader for an academic institution, for example a primary school, secondary school, private school, high school, college or university. The rektor in state-run colleges and universities are appointed by the government. The vice of a rektor at a university is called a prorektor and is appointed by the institution's board.

In the older universities of Uppsala and Lund the rektor is titled rector magnificus (men), or rectrix magnifica (women). Younger universities have in later years started using the Latin honorary title in formal situations such as honorary speeches or graduation ceremonies.

Eastern Europe and Turkey

Rector is the head of most universities and other higher educational institutions in at least parts of Eastern Europe, such as Bulgaria, Croatia, Poland, Romania, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine. The rector's deputies are known as "prorectors."

Academic rectors in North America


Like most Commonwealth and "Anglo-Saxon"-influenced countries, the term "rector" is uncommon.

However, in Quebec's Universities, both francophone (e.g., Université de Montréal) and anglophone (e.g., Concordia University), employ the term ("recteur" in French) to designate the head of the institution. As well, the historically French-Catholic, and currently bilingual University, Saint Paul University in Ottawa Ontario uses the term to denote its head.

Queen's University (Kingston, Ontario) is the only anglophone post-secondary institution outside Quebec to use the term "rector". However, the term applies to a member of the student body elected to work as an equal beside the Chancellor and Principal.

United States

Most U.S. colleges use the titles 'president' for the chief executive of the college and 'chair of the board of trustees' for the head of the body that legally "owns" the college. The terms "president" and "chancellor" are used for the chief executive of some universities and university systems, depending on the school's own statutes (some state university systems have both presidents of constituent colleges and a chancellor of the overall system, or vice versa). However, there are several notable exceptions, mostly found in the Commonwealth of Virginia: the University of Virginia, Virginia State University (Petersburg, Virginia), Virginia Commonwealth University (Richmond, Virginia), Washington and Lee University (Lexington, Virginia), the College of William and Mary (Williamsburg, Virginia) and Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, Virginia) use the term "Rector" to designate the head of the Board of Visitors; however, William and Mary also has a "Chancellor" who acts in a ceremonial capacity.

From 1701-1745, the head of the school that was to become Yale University was named "rector." In his own time as head of Yale College, Thomas Clap was both the last to be called "rector" (1740-1745) and the earliest to be called president (1745-1766). However, modern custom ignores the use of the term "rector" and instead lists Abraham Pierson as the first Yale president (1701-1707). Clap is construed to have been the fifth in the sequence of men who were Yale's leaders.[1]

Several Catholic colleges and universities, particularly those run by religious orders of priests (for instance, the Jesuits) formerly employed the term "rector" to refer to the school's chief officer. In many cases, the rector was also the head of the community of priests assigned to the school, and so the two posts – head of the university and local superior of the priests – were merged in the role of rector (See "Ecclesiastical rectors" below). This practice is no longer followed as the details of the governance of most of these schools have changed.

Academic rectors in Asia


The heads of certain Indian Boarding schools are called Rectors. The Head or Principal of Catholic Schools in India are also called Rectors.


Colonnade at the reconstructed Yushima Seidō in Tokyo. The hereditary rectors of this Edo period institution were selected from the Hayashi clan.

During the years of the Tokugawa shogunate (1601-1868), the rector of Edo's Confucian Academy, the Shōhei-kō (afterwards known at the Yushima Seidō), was known by the honorific title Daigaku-no kami which, in the context of Tokugawa hierarchy, effectively translates as "Head of the State University." The rector of the Yushima Seidō stood at the apex of the country-wide educational and training system which was created and maintained with the personal involvement of successive shoguns. The position as rector of the Yushima Seidō became hereditary in the Hayashi family.[2] The rectors' scholarly reputation was burnished by publication in 1657 of the 7 volumes of Survey of the Sovereigns of Japan (日本王代一覧 Nihon Ōdai Ichiran?)[3] and by the publication in 1670 of the 310 volumes of The Comprehensive History of Japan (本朝通鑑 Honchō-tsugan?).[4]


The term Rector or Rector Magnificus is used to refer to the highest official in prominent Catholic universities and colleges such as the University of Santo Tomas, Colegio de San Juan de Letran and San Beda College. The rector typically sits as chair of the university board of trustees. He exercises policy-making as well as general academic, managerial, and religious functions over all university academic and non-academic staff.

In the University of Santo Tomas, the highest individual academic award conferred on a graduating college student is the Rector's Award for Academic Excellence.

Rev. Fr. Anscar J. Chupungco, OSB, a world-renowned liturgist and theologian, served as the twentieth rector-president of San Beda College. Prior to this, he was former rector-magnificus of the Pontifical Liturgical Institute and the Pontifical Ateneo d' San't Anselmo both in Rome.

Ecclesiastical rectors

In ancient times bishops as rulers of cities and provinces, especially in the Papal States, were called rectors; also administrators of the patrimony of the Church (e.g. rector Siciliæ). Rector is used by Pope Gregory the Great in the "Regula Pastoralis" as equivalent to pastor.

Catholic hierarchies

In the Roman Catholic Church, a rector is a person who holds the office of presiding over an ecclesiastical institution. This institution might be a particular building—like a church or shrine—or it could also be an organization, such as a parish, a mission or quasi-parish, a seminary or house of studies, a university, a hospital, or a community of clerics or religious.

The Canon law of the Catholic Church explicitly mentions as special cases three offices of rectors: rectors of seminaries (c. 239 & c. 833 #6); rectors of churches that do not belong to a parish, a chapter of canons, or a religious order (c. 556–553); and rectors of Catholic universities (c. 443 §3 #3 & c. 833 #7). However, these are not the only officials that function as a rector.

Since the term rector refers to the function of the particular office, a number of officials are not called rector but nevertheless are rectors. The diocesan bishop, for instance, is himself a rector, since he presides over both an ecclesiastical organization (the diocese) and an ecclesiastical building (his cathedral). In many dioceses, the bishop delegates the day-to-day operation of the cathedral to a priest, who is often called a rector but whose specific title is plebanus or "people's pastor", especially if the cathedral is also a parish. As further example, the pastor of a parish (parochus in Latin) is rector over both his parish and the parish church. Finally, a president of a Catholic university is rector over the university and, if a priest, often the rector of any church that the university may operate (c. 557 §3).

In some religious congregations of priests, rector is the title of the local superior of a house or community of the order (for instance, a community of several dozen Jesuit priests might include the pastor and priests assigned to a parish church next door, the faculty of a Jesuit high school across the street, and the priests in an administrative office down the block, but the community as a local installation of Jesuit priests is headed by a rector).

Rector general is the title given to the superior general of certain religious orders, e.g. the Clerics Regular of the Mother of God, Pallottines.

There are some other uses of this title, for instance for residence hall directors at the University of Notre Dame which were once (and to some extent still are) run in a seminary-like fashion. This title is used similarly at the University of Portland, another institution of the Congregation of Holy Cross.

The pope has been called rector of the world, in the (now discontinued) conferring of the papal tiara as part of his formal installation after election.

A now obsolete use of the term occurred in the United States prior to the formulation of the 1917 Code of Canon Law. Canon Law grants a type of tenure to pastors (parochus) of parishes, giving them certain rights against arbitrary removal by the bishop of their diocese. In order to preserve their flexibility and authority in assigning priests to parishes, bishops in the United States until that time did not actually appoint priests as pastors, but as "permanent rectors" of their parishes: the "permanent" gave the priest a degree of confidence in the security in his assignment, but the "rector" rather than "pastor" preserved the bishop's absolute authority to reassign clergy. Hence, many older parishes list among their early leaders priests with the postnominal letters "P.R." (as in, a plaque listing all of the pastors of a parish, with "Rev. John Smith, P.R."). This practice was discontinued and today priests are normally assigned as pastors of parishes, and bishops in practice (though there are still questions about the canonical legality of this) reassign them at will.

Protestant hierarchies

In many Protestant congregational churches such as Baptist, Disciples of Christ, United Church of Christ, Evangelical Free Churches, etc., a Rector is a person elected to lead the congregation with pastoral duties affixed to their administrative job.

Anglican hierarchies

In the Anglican Churches, a rector is one type of parish priest. Historically, parish priests in the Church of England were divided into rectors, vicars, and perpetual curates. Roughly speaking, the distinction was that the rector directly received both the greater and lesser tithes of his parish, and a vicar received only the lesser tithes (the greater tithes going to the lay holder, or improprietor, of the living); a Perpetual Curate received neither greater nor lesser tithes, and received only a small salary (paid sometimes by the diocese). Quite commonly, parishes that had a rector as priest also had glebe lands attached to the parish. The rector was then responsible for the repair of the chancel of his church - the part dedicated to the sacred offices, while the rest of the building was the responsibility of the parish. This rectorial responsibility persists, in perpetuity, with the occupiers of the original rectorial land where it has been sold. This is called chancel repair liability, and affects institutional, corporate and private owners of land once owned by around 5,200 churches in England and Wales.[1] (See also Church of England#Organisation.)

The term has been re-used to designate the priest in charge of a team ministry (See also curate.)

In the Church of Ireland, Scottish Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of Canada, most parish priests are called rectors, not vicars. However, in the some dioceses of the Anglican Church of Canada rectors are officially licensed as incumbents to express the diocesan polity of employment of clergy.

In the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, the "rector" is the priest elected to head a self-supporting parish. A priest who is appointed by the bishop to head a parish in the absence of a rector is termed a "priest-in-charge", as is a priest leading a mission (that is, a congregation which is not self-supporting); "assistants" are priests hired by the parish to supplement the rector in his or her duties. The positions of "vicar" and "curate" are not recognized in the canons of the entire church. However, some diocesan canons do define "vicar" as the priest-in-charge of a mission; and "curate" is often used for assistants, being entirely analogous to the English situation.[5]

In schools affiliated with the Anglican church the title "rector" is sometimes used at secondary schools and boarding schools, where the headmaster is often a priest.

Rectorates in politics and administration


Rector provinciae was the Latin generic term for the governor of a Roman province, known since Suetonius, and specifically a legal term (as used in the Codices of the Emperors Theodosius I and Justinian I) since Emperor Diocletian's Tetrarchy (when they came under the administrative authority of the Vicarius of a diocese and these under a Pretorian prefect), regardless of the specific titles (of different rank, such as Consularis, Corrector provinciae, Praeses and Proconsul)


Similar gubernatorial use or as Chief magistrate in city states in the Adriatic, also in the Italian form Rettore, includes:

  • The Republic of Ragusa (presently Dubrovnik, in Croatian Dalmatia), was governed by a Rettore repeatedly:
    • 1190 - 1194 between the sovereignty of the Norman Kingdom of "Sicily" (Naples) and Venetian sovereignty, annually elected, alongside the title Comes
    • 1370 - 1808, alongside the title Duke or its Slavonic equivalent Knez, during periods of sovereignty of the Hungarian crown till 1458, then the Ottoman Sultan (formally 1526 - 1718), since 1684 under the joint 'protection' of Habsburg Austria's and the Ottoman Empire, then from 1798 under Austrian - and from 1806 under French occupation till incorporation in Napoleonic Illyria
    • once more Rector 18 - 29 January 1814 Simone, conte de Giorgi, the last previous incumbent, during the short-lived restoration of the republic
  • Primo Rettore, 8 September 1920 - 29 December 1920 Gabriele D'Annunzio (b. 1863 - d. 1938) (formerly Italian Commander) in Fiume


  • For the use of the style duke and rector of Burgundy by the Zähringer dynasty claimants to viceregal powers as Regent in the Arelat kingdom of Burgundy within the Holy Roman Empire, see King of Burgundy#Rectorate of Burgundy
  • Contemporary charters in Latin used a number of additional styles for the Danish king Cnut (Canute the Great, with Norway as his third realm; 23 April 1016 - 12 November 1035 in Britain) having rex Anglorum in the core plus various other titles, including rex Anglorum totiusque Brittannice orbis gubernator et rector i.e. 'king of the Angli and of all Britain governor and rector' (the last two in the generic sense 'ruler')
  • In an early 12th-century oath to Ramon Berenguer III, Count of Barcelona, this ruler is referred to as rector catalanicus (as well as catalanicus heroes and dux catalanensis).
  • The Comtat Venaissin in southern France was administered by a Rector since it became a papal possession till 1790 (on 24 May its States General -representative assembly- proclaims a constitution, but remains loyal to the pope).
  • In a few 'Crown lands' of the Austrian Empire, one seat in the Landtag (regional legislature of semi-feudal type) was reserved for the Rector of the capital's university, notably: Graz in Steiermark (Styria), Innsbruck in Tirol , Wien (Vienna) in Nieder-Österreich (Lower Austria); in Bohemia, two Rectors seated in the equivalent Landesvertretung

Compound titles

To a rector who has resigned is often given the title rector emeritus. One who supplies the place usually occupied by a rector is styled pro-rector (in parishes, administrator).

Deputies of rectors in institutions are known as vice-rectors (in parishes, as curates, assistant - or associate rectors, etc.). In some universities the title vice-rector has, like Vice-Chancellor in many Anglo-Saxon cases, been used for the de facto head when the essentially honorary title of rector is reserved for a high externa dignitary- until 1920, there was such a vice-recteur at the Parisian Sorbonne as the French Minister of Education was its nominal Recteur


  1. Welch, Lewis et al. (1899). Yale, Her Campus, Class-rooms, and Athletics, p. 445.
  2. Ponsonby-Fane,, Richard A.B. (1956). Kyoto: the Old Capital, 794-1869. p. 418.
  3. Brownlee, John S. (1999). Japanese Historians and the National Myths, 1600-1945: The Age of the Gods and Emperor Jinmu, p. 218 n14; N.b., Brownlee mis-identifies Nihon Ōdai Ichiran publication date as 1663 rather than 1657.
  4. Brownlee, John. (1991). Political Thought in Japanese Historical Writing: From Kojiki (712) to Tokushi Yoron (1712), p. 120.
  5. Canons of the Episcopal Church in the United State of America, III.9.3

See also

  • Chancellor (education)
  • Education in Scotland
  • Rector of the University of Aberdeen
  • Rector of the University of Dundee
  • Rector of the University of Glasgow
  • Rector of the University of Edinburgh
  • Rector of the University of St Andrews
  • Rector Magnificus of the University of Santo Tomas
  • Pauly-Wissowa (in German, on Antiquity)


External links

bg:Ректор ca:Rector cs:Rektor da:Rektor et:Rektor eo:Rektoro id:Rektor lt:Rektorius mk:Ректор no:Rektor pt:Reitor ro:Rector ru:Ректор sl:Rektor fi:Rehtori sv:Rektor th:อธิการบดี tr:Rektör uk:Ректор