What is the difference between a tenured professor and an adjunct professor?

What is the difference between a tenured professor and an adjunct professor?woman professor adjunct tenure faculty college university classroom

Being a tenured or adjunct professor is a job that is unique to higher education, and the different types of faculty roles leave some asking: what is a tenured professor? What is an adjunct professor? How does academic tenure work? There is a lot going on in the world of HigherEd faculty, so in this article, we’ll break down the difference between tenured and adjunct professors, the role of faculty at an institution, and how the tenure process works.


What is a tenured professor?

A tenured professor is a faculty member at a college or university who has a full-time teaching position and strong job security that protects academic freedom. Their jobs are protected so that they can conduct potentially controversial or unpopular research and teach freely without fear of being fired—though they can still be fired for causes like misconduct, hate speech, or incompetence, usually accompanied by a peer review.

Professors with tenure often have indefinite contracts and receive higher salaries than adjunct professors. They teach, conduct research in their fields, serve on college committees, and mentor students. These professors usually have the highest degree in their field, which is frequently a Ph.D, and have conducted significant research, demonstrated scholarly achievement, taught and mentored successfully, and made an impact on their academic field. The percentage of tenured professors has fallen consistently at institutions across the United States, from nearly 80% in 1970 to 20% in 2018.


adjunct tenured professor sitting on desk with text book in college university classroomWhat is an adjunct professor?

An adjunct or contingent professor is a part-time or contingent college or university professor who works on a short-term contract. 70% of adjunct faculty work on per-semester contracts, and 25% hold jobs outside academia to supplement their work and incomes since they generally have a lower salary than tenured professors.

Similar to tenured professors, adjunct professors generally hold a doctorate or a graduate degree. Today, they make up the majority of professors on any college campus. Adjunct professors teach courses and mentor students, but are not usually expected to conduct research, publish papers, or serve on committees.


What is the tenure process?

The tenure process is long and difficult. The first step is securing a tenure-track role, meaning a role where a professor is teaching while working towards the requirements for tenure (distinct from an adjunct or part-time role). That is generally an assistant professor role, which is considered a probationary period. Assistant professors then must demonstrate excellence in teaching, research, and service during the next 5-10 years in order to be considered for tenure.

After that probationary period, tenure review begins. This is usually a year-long review by administrators and by peer faculty members to determine if a professor’s work qualifies them for tenure. Tenure review is a stressful and complex process that requires professors to collect and share years worth of research, publications, teaching and work history, and more. If, at the end of the year, tenure is awarded, then that professor becomes an associate professor with tenure. Eventually, associate professors may be promoted to full professors later in their career, and sometimes take on administrative roles.

If an assistant professor does not get tenure after their review, they might stay at that institution another year or so but need to look for another role. Being deniedlecture at university professor students tenure at one higher education institution doesn’t necessarily mean a professor won’t get tenure at another institution, but it is still a difficult path.


PeopleAdmin’s faculty solutions

PeopleAdmin is constantly innovating to solve the challenges faced by HigherEd, and that includes streamlining and simplifying the tenure review process. Faculty Information System (FIS) collects and organizes faculty’s academic output in a user-friendly, centralized system. When tenure review comes around, faculty can easily collect and share their work history, academic history, research, papers, course history, and more without digging through files and systems. FIS also eases the burden on review committees with centralized, digitized materials, custom workflows, and confidential recommendations, removing the need for paper binders and back-and-forth emails.

Learn more about how PeopleAdmin can support faculty and academic processes at your institution!