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 pursues an academic career and holds all formal qualifications (doctorate and habilitation) to become a tenured university professor.
Professors at a Fachhochschule, as well as honorary professors (see professor), do not need habilitation and thus were seldom 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.
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.").
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.