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One way of thinking about it is that rank and tenure-status are separable (and increasingly so). It used to be that there were in AAUP's eyes only the "regular constitutive faculty of an institution" (tenure and probationary), visiting (limited to 3 years traditionally) and adjunct. Only the first two were given the four ranks.

But now (i.e. since the 80's increasingly so) we have the category of "renewable non-tt faculty." These are typically ranked but depending upon the institution have various degrees of protection for academic freedom: In some places virtually none (hired/fired at will by administrators--"non-reappointment without cause" is the technical language (which by the way applies to probationary faculty as well--no cause needs to be given for not reappointing a tenure-track faculty member).

It's important, I think, to remember that tenure has existed to protect academic freedom and create economic conditions conducive to attracting talented people to academia. Now that the latter has been rendered irrelevant for many institutions (they have no trouble attracting talented people to teach classes for ridiculous salaries), tenure has been reduced to protection from firing without cause.

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