Adjunct Professor: Role and Duties Within the University

Adjunct Professor: Role and Duties Within the University

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Adjunct professors are an essential part of many educational institutions. They provide many positive contributions to both private and public universities, community colleges, and online educational institutions. They are hired by the course based on their ability to enrich the student experience with their technical expertise.

An adjunct professor is a non-tenured track professor who commits to teaching part-time. They usually are temporary professors as their contracts are renewed annually. Adjunct professors sometimes conduct research, often working with postgraduate students and Ph.D. students.

This article will explain the main functions of adjunct professors, why we need them, their pay scales and career path, and the three types of adjunct professors. So let’s get started. 

What Does an Adjunct Professor Do?

An adjunct professor teaches university or college-level students or higher. They usually have similar duties to tenured professors, such as teaching classes, grading exams and assignments, and reviewing course materials, but with fewer academic duties.

Since they can create a schedule that suits them, they won’t usually be present on campus the same amount of time as tenured professors. 

As they are exempt from many of the obligations undertaken by full-time staff, they are generally free to carry out activities outside of campus that do not pertain to teaching.

When they are present on campus, contingent faculty usually spend most of their time interacting with students and peers, engaging in various professional development activities, and doing relevant course preparation activities. 

Since they are not obliged to do any research for their university or college or attend the usually mandatory staff events, they tend to focus all their energy on face-to-face student commitments and interacting with class material.

Adjunct professors are a considerable part of higher education institutions. It has been said that about ⅔ of the employed professors at community colleges in the United States are part-time or contract staff. 

The Difference Between an Adjunct Professor and a Full-Time Professor

Because of their commitments outside of the university of college, contingent faculty often have the technical and practical experience that many full-time professors lack. Alongside full-time faculty members, their experience provides the students with different perspectives on various academic subjects.

While still participating in university activities such as preparing for classes and mentoring students, adjunct professors very often still have the time to work in their field. This free time allows them to enjoy the benefits of a satisfying academic environment while pursuing their career. 

An excellent example of this is engineering adjunct professors, who have practical experience that can benefit students who are preparing for life outside of their academic careers. 

Similarly, part-time employed nurses can work part-time at universities and colleges as adjunct professors while still spending time working in the hospital.

There are many advantages to this:

  • Adjunct professors can pass on their practical work experience to their students, positively influencing the lives of their students and preparing them for working life.
  • They can easily balance their lives to suit them while earning money both at the university or college and at their regular jobs.
  • Enriching their students’ academic experience through practical knowledge creates an environment of trust between academics and students.
  • Adjunct professors can link their students to numerous career opportunities and extracurricular activities that otherwise would have been very difficult to come across. 

Main Duties of an Adjunct Professor

Their core responsibilities line up with full-time or tenured professors insofar as they must spend most of their time preparing materials for their graduate courses and delivering classes.

Their general responsibilities on campus include:

  • Preparing teaching material for classes and following the curriculum set out by the university.
  • Marking assignments, homework, and grading exams.
  • Setting homework for students and providing appropriate feedback.
  • Mentoring students and monitoring their progress.
  • Following the curriculum effectively and in conjunction with the other professors in the department.
  • Engaging with other faculty members about course schedules and modules.
  • Attending faculty events as advised.
  • Taking part in class reviews.

As you can see, the primary job obligations of an adjunct professor are very similar to that of the full-time educators at the same university.

Additionally, they often have the same importance to students as full-time or tenured professors, as they provide essential mentorship and career guidance to students within a higher education setting.

Why Universities Need Adjunct Professors

Adjunct professors provide educational institutions with a range of flexible staff members who have the technical or practical expertise and work experience that full-time professors might lack.

Aside from enabling students to get a well-rounded and realistic education in a given subject, they can use their professional relationships to facilitate internships and meaningful career advancement for those they teach.

They also have a significant amount of expertise on the subject they teach, allowing them to give a much broader education to their students. Adjuncts can provide opportunities to cultivate students’ knowledge and connect them to the outside world.

Many students from some universities in the United States have been known to advance in their political careers through the knowledge and expertise of the adjunct professors who taught them.

Another reason we need adjunct professors is their ability to be flexible in a changeable environment. 

Since their contracts often must be renewed annually (although this is dependent on the institution), adjuncts can take one class one semester and two the next semester, depending on their free time and the institution’s applicable needs

Because of their flexibility, adjuncts also tend to have more time outside of teaching for mentoring students, allowing them to engage fully with the students and prepare them better for their careers outside of the university.

In many cases, higher education institutions do not allow them to teach a full load within one semester. Very often, they are only obliged to work up to two courses in a single semester.

What Are the Disadvantages of Being an Adjunct Professor?

The disadvantages of being an adjunct professor are that they don’t have the same earning bracket as full-time staff. Furthermore, adjunct faculty members are not tenured, they are often not on the tenure track and their contracts are renewed by the course.

Contingent Faculty Tend To Earn a Lot Less

Generally speaking, because of their scheduling freedom and ability to take on less responsibility, adjunct professors tend to earn less than tenured professors.

Because of this, they do not have as much job security as a full-time faculty member. Often their contracts need to be reviewed and updated every semester, meaning that they may not be sure if they will have a job after the semester is over.

Being that they are usually part-time or contract workers, this also disconnects them from the benefits that a full-time professor or tenured professor would usually have, such as health insurance or pension plans.

They Can Work at More Than One Institution

Some people have suggested that because of the freedom of teaching part-time, the students can suffer from having a mentor who isn’t always present on campus.

Contingent staff is also rarely given an office of their own, so having one-on-one time with students can often be tricky. While they may be issued a desk inside a shared workspace, this can often cause problems with the other faculty members who also need a private space to engage with students.

Without a private space to work or meet with their students, adjuncts sometimes find it hard to locate a neutral and appropriate space to coach students having difficulties. 

This can lead to mentoring problems between student and teacher, preventing them from garnering a relationship appropriate to the student’s eventual success.

Problems With Full-Time Faculty Members

There are some instances in which tenured or full-time professors might look down upon part-time staff, which could eventually lead to difficulties in the department.

An adjunct faculty member doesn’t have access to staff events or meetings, voting rights in the department, or any fundamental decision-making requirements. Because of this, it might be difficult for an adjunct professor to properly engage with the staff in the department, leading to misunderstandings and disagreements.

Financial Insecurity

Having a part-time teaching job might sound great if you want to pursue other interests elsewhere, but there is some job insecurity that comes along with that.

The main difference between an associate professor and an adjunct professor is that adjunct professors are not tenured, nor are they on the tenure track. Depending on the contract they sign and the institution they work for, adjunct professors are often uncertain if they will have a job the next year or even the following semester.

This can mean that they are more likely to hop from one job to another more frequently than full-time professors, mainly so they can maintain their earning potential. Not having the benefits accrued by the privilege of being hired on a full-time basis, they don’t have the same job guarantee that would allow them to invest permanently in the institution.

What Are the Types of Adjunct Professors?

The three different types of professors that are granted adjunct status:

  1. Adjunct assistant professors, which are the most common tier of adjunct professors.
  2. Adjunct associate professors, which are mid-tier adjunct professors, assist the adjunct professors with their classes.
  3. Adjunct professors are part-time professors with outstanding experience and qualifications.

Adjunct Assistant Professors

Adjunct assistant professors tend to have higher qualification certificates or relevant experience. These are the lowest rank of adjunct professors, and they may or may not have a Master’s degree alongside their expertise.

Adjunct Associate Professors

Adjunct associate professors are typically given this title when their education qualifies them as adjunct professors. 

Still, they do not necessarily have to be a top expert in their field. These are the mid-range part-time professors who can eventually qualify as fully-fledged adjunct professors, provided that their expertise and experience allow it.

Adjunct Professors

Adjunct professors are top experts in their fields, with possibly the highest educational achievements. They often have a Ph.D. as well as a Master’s degree and almost always have recognized and applicable experience in their profession.

They tend to be top experts in their field and have the relevant work and volunteer experience to prove it.

Who Hires Adjunct Professors?

Many educational institutions hire adjunct professors, and the job contract, wages, flexibility, and benefits are all factors to be considered. Most higher education institutions hire several adjunct professors to take on some of the teaching workloads. 

Universities benefit hugely from the presence of adjuncts, and so there is usually a lot of space in academic departments for them to be considered. Community colleges also often hire adjunct professors, although they frequently pay a lot less than universities would pay when they do. 

Accredited online institutions of higher education regularly take on adjunct professors. 

One of the benefits of this is the flexibility in hiring choices, as an online educator can efficiently work from anywhere without traveling. Retaining part-time staff as an online university or college can also be cheaper than having full-time staff. 

The hiring process for adjunct professors is very much dependent on the institution. At universities, it is often a longer process than at a community college. 

Still, generally speaking, the hiring process is a lot less complicated and shorter than the process of hiring full-time professors.

Becoming an Adjunct Professor

In order to become an adjunct professor, you need to be an expert in your field. In many cases, you would need to have similar (or sometimes the same) qualifications to a full-time professor, but you don’t necessarily need previous teaching experience. 

Most universities demand that to teach postgraduate education, you must have a Master’s yourself, or even, in some cases, a Ph.D. 

However, some community colleges are lenient on this aspect during recruitment processes and ask that you have an undergraduate degree and relevant work experience instead of a Master’s or a Ph.D.

For example, Westminster College in Salt Lake City does not require any teaching experience, although it may help your application. Having previous experience as a teacher is definitely an advantage in your quest to become an adjunct professor, but it is not necessarily always needed. 

In some cases, universities will give you access to training materials that guide you and give you a deeper understanding of teaching higher education students effectively.

Essential Skills for Anyone Looking To Become an Adjunct Professor

There are many skills required to land an adjunct teaching position:

  • You need to be very experienced in your field and have a passion for your work. 
  • You must have the ability to communicate with others effectively.
  • You should have good presentation skills and be able to speak regularly in public. 
  • You must have sufficient technical skills to enable you to use the university platforms efficiently.
  • You should have the ability to create and deliver at least one complete course for students.
  • You must be able to follow the university’s protocols and teaching protocols meticulously.  
  • You should have some experience in a teaching position. Although, as mentioned above, this is, in some cases, not mandatory.
  • You must be able to manage your time effectively between your normal job and your teaching requirements.
  • You should have at least one bachelor’s degree, for community college, and preferably a graduate degree (master’s degree) or doctoral degree (Ph.D.) for university-level teaching.
  • You must have the ability to liaise effectively with other professors in the department and correspond with them about teaching materials and course structures.
  • You must be able to teach one entire course for at least one full semester.

In order to fully understand the hiring process for becoming an Adjunct Professor, it is more efficient to look into each educational institution separately, for often, they have differing hiring methods and have differing requirements.

For example, the University of Michigan requires all adjunct positions to be renewed annually. In contrast, the Universities of Yale and Cornell respectively require adjunct positions to be renewed within either three or five years.

Professional Organizations That Support Adjunct Professors

There are a number of successful associations and organizations that take on various roles on behalf of adjunct professors.

They act as unions through which they can be assured of their rights, offer career advice and guidance, and often serve as networking and engagement forums through which adjuncts can meet and guide each other.

These are the leading organizations in the United States who are committed to the future of Adjunct Professorship:

Final Thoughts

As you can see, adjunct professors have many roles in higher education institutions worldwide. They provide many positive benefits to the students whom they teach, and they are, in many cases, the backbone of many institutions.

Becoming an adjunct professor gives you many options to pursue your other interests and continue working in your chosen profession. 

The only problem that needs to be fixed is the lack of job benefits accrued for those who work as part-time professors in colleges and universities. This would enable them better job security and educational consistency within individual academic departments.