An adjunct professor is a part-time professor who is hired on a contractual basis rather than being given tenure and a permanent position. Many universities hire large numbers of adjunct faculty members because they are flexible and cheaper to maintain than traditional full-time faculty members. Just like regular faculty members, adjunct professors must fulfill basic educational requirements before they can teach, and many of them are very well-educated, talented people. The use of adjunct professor positions has grown in many universities in response to decreased funding, which forces these schools to make choices that are sometimes difficult. If the choice is between hiring adjunct professors and closing a program, many schools consider it better to hire adjunct professors.
Advantages for Schools
For a university, there are many advantages of hiring adjunct professors. They are viewed as temporary, so a university might hire a part-timer for a single semester to expand its course offerings or to meet student demand for a program that does not have a large enough staff. An adjunct professor does not have tenure or other rights, so a university also can easily get rid of one who does not perform to the university's standard — all the school has to do is decline to renew the adjunct professor's contract.
In addition to being essentially disposable in the eyes of many educational institutions, adjunct faculty members also are much less costly to hire. They are not entitled to benefits such as healthcare and retirement plans, and they usually are not given offices. Adjunct professors who do have office space typically have to share the space with other faculty members. Most are paid by the course unit, and their teaching loads vary from part-time to overloaded.
Advantages for Professors
From the point of view of an adjunct professor, there are certain disadvantages of this kind of work, such as a lack of job security, but there also are some benefits. The same flexibility that allows a university to easily dispose of unwanted professors allows adjunct professors to depart after a term if they are offered better work. They also do not have administrative duties, meaning that they do not need to attend faculty meetings and similar events, and most of them are not required to perform research or to publish work unless they are interested in seeking full-time work. Some people actually prefer working as adjunct faculty members because they enjoy teaching but dislike the tasks associated with tenure and full-time responsibilities.