The word "rector" also appears in many modern languages, such as Dutch, Spanish, Catalan-Valencian and Romanian. In Bulgarian, Czech, Polish, Russian, Ukrainian, Croatian, Serbian, Danish, German, Hungarian, Hebrew, Icelandic, Macedonian, Norwegian, Swedish, Indonesian and Tagalog, the homophonous spelling is Rektor. Other languages use derivative forms, e.g. Rettore in Italian, Reitor in Portuguese, and Rehtori in Finnish.
The term and office of a rector are called a rectorate.
"Rector" is also a surname in English-speaking countries.
The title is used widely in universities across Europe, including Albania, the Benelux, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, the Republic of Macedonia, Moldova, Pakistan, 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, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela, and also in 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.
The post (officially Lord Rector, but by normal use Rector alone) 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 completing 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 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.
At the University of London there is a Chancellor (a formal 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 formal head whilst the Vice-Chancellor is the chief academic. The Vice-Chancellor of Liverpool Hope University also takes the role of Rector.
In the older universities of Uppsala and Lund the rektor is titled rector magnificus, or rectrix magnifica (feminine). Younger universities have in later years started using the Latin honorary title in formal situations such as honorary speeches or graduation ceremonies.
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 (aside from Dutch-speaking Flanders), 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 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). 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 Professor Doctor (Rector's name), Rector Magnífico de la Universidad de Salamanca ("The Most Excellent and Most Illustrious Lord Professor Doctor (Rector's name), Rector Magnificus of the University of Salamanca").
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.
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. Queen's currently has Leora Jackson as its 31st Rector.
In Italy the rector 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
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 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.
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.
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, "rector" is usually used for the priest in charge of a self-sustaining parish while the priest who heads a mission—a congregation supported by the diocese—is generally called a vicar.
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.
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