The term “adjunct faculty” refers to university professors who are hired on a contract basis, usually to teach one or two courses for a semester or year. Although the term “visiting professor” or “lecturer” is most commonly used in the United States, the terms “visiting professor” or “lecturer” may cover the same job in other countries. In comparison to their more permanent counterparts, adjuncts typically teach fewer courses and have little to no job security. They are usually hired to meet specific university needs, such as temporary increases in enrollments or student interest in specific electives, and their contracts are designed to be flexible and changeable at any time.
Adjunct vs. Tenured Faculty: What’s the Difference?
In the United States, universities typically hire faculty in two “tiers” based on their long-term commitment. Professors on the “tenure track” are academics who are or hope to be permanent members of a department’s teaching staff. They usually have or are working toward contracts that make it extremely difficult to fire or dismiss them. This is frequently regarded as the best type of position to hold because it allows the faculty member to set their own curriculum and conduct independent research.
The second tier includes adjunct and other temporary teaching staff. Faculty in this category are frequently hired on a project basis, for example, to cover a single lecture or teach a single subject. Even if these teachers are excellent and well-liked students, schools rarely provide them with long-term employment. As a result, they are much more constrained university rules and are unable to be as innovative in their teaching as those with stronger job protections. Faculty in this category may not receive all of the benefits that a full professor would, such as health insurance and paid vacation time, in some cases.
The majority of adjuncts have the same basic qualifications as their tenured colleagues. Both typically have doctorate degrees in their fields of expertise and have taught or assisted in teaching at the university level. Adjuncts who want to become full-time professors see their work as a way to gain experience or buy time while they wait for a tenure-track position.
The Position’s Temporary Nature
One of the most common reasons for hiring adjunct faculty is to temporarily supplement existing teaching staff. When enrollment exceeds expectations or when hiring tenure-track professors would be prohibitively expensive, colleges and universities may do so. Universities favor this hiring structure because it allows them to be as flexible as possible. Professors can be fired if their positions are no longer needed or if their classes are no longer in demand.
When it comes to establishing a reputation and credentials, taking a job as an adjunct professor can be risky for an academic. Adjuncts are typically required to plan their schedules and research agendas around the university’s needs, rather than their own personal interests. When it comes to curriculum development and course design, it can be difficult for those in these positions to complete much original writing and research, and they may have to put their creativity on hold.
Depending on the circumstances, adjuncts may find it more difficult to interact with students. Temporary faculty members in many schools do not have offices or share office space with other people. This can make it difficult to schedule meetings or provide mentorship outside of the classroom, lowering the adjunct’s overall teaching quality and decreasing the value he or she brings to the school.
Flexibility and Potential Benefits
However, not everything about being an adjunct is negative. Academics approaching retirement or visiting from other universities often appreciate the position’s looser, more flexible nature. People who do not require permanent housing often find the situation to be ideal. It is usually the most difficult for junior faculty who are just getting started.
Some adjuncts, such as subject matter experts and industry professionals, are not academics at all. For example, a well-known community lawyer might teach a single course on criminal procedure at a local law school, or a corporate executive might teach a semester’s worth of business courses in a university’s evening program. In these situations, adjuncting is often the best option because students can benefit from the expert’s knowledge without having to give up their regular jobs.
Some universities have been chastised for using adjunct faculty excessively for financial reasons unrelated to expert flexibility or student benefit. Temporary faculty are almost always less expensive than tenure-track faculty, but skeptics fear that this trend will degrade academia over time. Many argue that the university system was created to promote independent research and intellectual freedom as much as, if not more than, providing on-demand classes. They argue that moving to a system where professors have no security could stifle overall teaching effectiveness and make students’ learning experience worse.