The word rector ("ruler," from the Latin regere) has a number of different meanings.
The Rector is the highest academic official of a university in many countries. At some universities they have the title of rector magnificus.
In Scotland, the position of Rector exists in the four "ancient" universities, St Andrews, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Edinburgh as well as Dundee. The post (technically they are the Lord Rector, but usually are just referred to as Rector) was enshrined as being integral part of each of these universities by the Universities (Scotland) Act 1889. It is a post elected at regular intervals by the students of the individual universities, the holder of which is entitled to chair meetings of the University Court, the university's governing body. The Rector is something of a figurehead (and to a certain extent, a 'mascot'). Actual operation of the university is in the hands of its Principal (or Vice-Chancellor). In recent years Rectors have often been elected from the world of celebrity (Peter Ustinov at Dundee, and John Cleese and Frank Muir at St Andrews, for example), but nonetheless their position is of some importance to the running of each university. The head teacher of a Scottish school may also be a rector.
- Lord Rector of Glasgow University
- Lord Rector of Edinburgh University
- Lord Rector of Aberdeen University
- Lord Rector of Dundee University
- Lord Rector of St Andrews University
In the Anglican church, a rector is one type of parish priest, sometimes referred to as a parson. For historical reasons, some parish priests in the Church of England are called by this term while others are called vicars: a rector directly received the tithes of his parish, while a vicar did not, being paid instead a salary (sometimes by his diocese). In the Church of Ireland, most parish priests are called rectors, not vicars. Outside the British Isles the term is used more loosely. In the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, a rector is generally the priest in charge of a self-sustaining parish. A mission, which is a congregation supported by the diocese, is headed by a vicar.
In the Roman Catholic Church, a rector is a priest appointed by the diocesan bishop to take charge of a church not belonging to a parish. This is often the cathedral of the diocese, which, in the Anglican Communion, would be headed by a dean. A rector could also be in charge of the main church of a Catholic university or the church of a seminary. Rectors of those institutuions have special obligations under canon law.