Friday, 16 January 2009

'Pető Professzor’ / 'Professor Pető'

No simple answer but still answers

A couple of months ago on Conductive World (Sutton, 2008) I responded to an enquiry from Judit Szathmáry who wrote asking for clarification about András Pető’s entitlement to be referred to as ‘Professor Pető’.

I made a very English reply

My reply includied the following passage:

Certainly, many people in Hungary still speak and write about ‘Pető Professzor’, without apparently thinking about what the term implies. This was the case in the past and it has persisted to the present day. Where do they imagine him to have held his chair? In what subject?

Others, who know something of András Pető and, just as important, the proud standards of Hungarian academe, are likely to shake their heads and smile wryly if asked the same question that you have asked me. I know, I’ve tried it – and so should you if you don’t believe me.

András Pető may have been many things but one that he certainly was not was an academic. I base this partly on what (admittedly little) I know of his written work. This was in no way akademische or tudományos. He was a ‘doctor’ but in the medical sense, a physician. I don’t know what this means in Hungary but in the United Kingdom this is an honorary title, not in itself indicating academic training. That is why ‘research doctors’ go on to take a PhD. András Pető had no such further training.

A very English reply, as I was aware at the time of writing it! I hoped that this would provoke in response something a bit more Hungarian. I was not disappointed and I was soon enjoying a couple of characteristically challenging emails from Emma McDowell in Belfast, longstanding conductive parent, CE-advocate, Hungarian and, for many years my irreplaceable mentor on Hungarian culture and history.

A very Hungarian response

Unfortunately, Emma was stymied in responding publicly to my challenge, unable to break through into placing a Comment on Conductive World. So here now anyway are some of the things that she was bursting to say

Is Pető rightfully called ‘Pető Professzor’?

YES, in Hungarian usage anyway.

When András Pető was officially appointed főiskolai tanár at the főiskola (college) that he had created, the head of a főiskola (or of a department thereof) carried the academic rank of főiskolai tanár and, as the top of the academic ranking was addressed as Professzor. The next rank down would have been docens, the one below that adjunktus, and the lowest, still academic rank would have been tanársegéd, roughly translatable respectfully as senior lecturer, lecturer and assistant lecturer.

As you can see, the word tanár (lecturer) carries in Hungarian the secondary meaning of head of department. In medical school clinics that are teaching departments the head of the clinic is addressed by his title either as Professzor Úr or qually frequently Tanár Úr (like in German Herr Professor).

A family experience of that time

My own applied pedagogic principle is also Fortiter in re, suaviter in modo. I learned it from my father.

My father had taught at the Pedagógiai Főiskola (translatable as teacher training college) in Szeged, training secondary-school teachers in specialized subjects. He was head of a large and very academic department, teaching geography. His academic rank was főiskolai tanár, and his staff held all the above-mentioned ranks. Even in those most Communist times my father was addressed as ‘Professor’ (Professzor Úr or Tanár Úr). On the basis of his own research work he also carried the title egyetemi magántanár, meaning that he was entitled to teach at a University, which he did by travelling once a week to lecture on the University of Debrecen.

An akadémikus in Hungary is a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, the highest academic rank achievable. My own father had already sent off his research material, publications etc. to the Academy of Sciences by the autumn of 1956 but afterwards – in July 1957 – he was ‘dismissed’ from his post for his so-called ‘participation in the Revolution’. One of the many humiliations that he suffered was receiving a large parcel from the Academy, all his papers sent back…


Intézet, as you surmise, has a loaded meaning in Hungarian, as has the English word ‘institute’. The Konduktiv Nevelő és Nevelőképző Intézet was so named, correctly if rather awkwardly, no doubt by Pető himself, Állami (State) was of course the word that preceded everything in those days.)

The later, shortened version – Pető Intézet, introduced by the English pioneers – was fitting as well. The word Intézet does cover the meaning of the English ‘institution’ in the old sense but nowadays implies more ’research institute’ or a specifically ‘medical institute‘. It also means ‘school’ in the earlier fashion: boarding school. The two criteria: boarding school + research seem to have met in Pető’s Intézet, which, along with the ‘teaching thereof’, resulted in the college diploma.


Ah, research! The Konduktív Nevelő...etc. had the purpose of the whole thing in its very name (awkward or not). What Pető did was cutting-edge, innovative and applied research. Written, published and academically proofed is NOT the only research method…

Quite simple, isn’t it? Didn't you say that the Hungarian language ‘doesn’t take prisoners’ Neither does the social structure!

And between the two positions?

There is always a compromise to be made! In András Pető’s place and in his time it was appropriate for him to be referred to respectfully and addressed with the honorific ‘Pető Professzor’. There were social rules and conventions and people knew them so nobody was being misled. In different lands now and in different languages, it is easy for people in all innocence to be deceived by the term ‘Professor Pető’ into believing that he was something that he was not. His achievement was of a different kind, and none the less creditable for that. It should be acknowledged clearly for what it was.


Sutton, A. (2008) Dialogue with Judit – II. Was András Pető a professor? Conductive World, 16 November

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