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One of the highest awards the University can bestow upon a faculty member is that of Distinguished Professor. It is not a faculty rank but an honorary distinction. This recognition is based on distinguished scholarship as evidenced by a record of outstanding research, teaching, and service and is conferred only on a faculty member at Mississippi State University who has attained national or international status. In that context, a minimum of three years of service at MSU is necessary for consideration.

The criteria for selection are rigorous. They include a distinguished record as a scholar, demonstrated research achievements, and national or international prominence as verified by external reviewers from the candidate's specific field. Outstanding performance in teaching and service, and motivating colleagues and students toward their best personal goals and objectives are also to be considered in the appraisal of a nominee. Appropriate documentation must be provided to support the case for excellence in all three of the areas of research, teaching, and service. No administrator at the level of dean or above is eligible for consideration as a Distinguished Professor.

Nomination of a professor for designation as a "William L. Giles Distinguished Professor" will originate with the department or the college/school in which the nominee holds the rank of professor. If the nomination originates with the department, it must be forwarded to the dean for review. The nomination, along with appropriate documentation, will then be forwarded to the Provost for review and further consideration. A University Distinguished Professors Review Committee will play a major advisory role to the Provost in considering the recommendations for Distinguished Professors. It will consist of five members: Vice President for Research, Chair, two current Distinguished Professors designated by the Provost, one member designated by the President, and the Chair of the Faculty Senate or designee.

The total number of Distinguished Professors constitutes a relatively small percent of the faculty. No stipulation is made concerning the number of Distinguished Professors that may be named in any one year. There may be years in which no Distinguished Professors will be designated. The appointment of Distinguished Professors will occur during the Spring Semester of each year based upon a schedule established by the Office of Academic Affairs.

The professorships are named for William L. Giles, the university's 13th president, who served from 1966 to 1976.