What I understand is,

  • an adjunct professor is a part-time teacher
  • a professor-emeritus is a part-time teacher who went past his full-time (tenured) period, but either the university didn't let him go, or he didn't want to retire

Is my understanding correct?

If YES, I am confused. Coz, I found some adjunct teachers to be the dean of the faculty. How can an adjunct teacher become a faculty-dean?

  • 3
    What country? Buffy's answer applies to the US but I believe the term is used differently in some certain other places.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jul 28, 2021 at 14:06

2 Answers 2


An adjunct is someone without a continuing contract who teaches courses with only a contract for that course (or a few courses). They are "temp" employees and often get only minimal benefits such as contribution to retirement and such (US). Pay is normally abysmal.

A professor emeritus may teach or not. It is an honorific often/normally given to someone who retires from the profession in good standing. In some places I think it is automatic, but in some it is specifically granted.

A person might do both, teaching on an adjunct contract after having retired (and given up tenure). Some of these may be paid more than the normal adjunct.

In the case of the dean, it was probably just that the dean position was achieved in the normal way (usually a tenured professor advances) but had no teaching duties. If they wanted to also teach a course they might be given an adjunct contract for it (probably paid, but possibly not). It wasn't that the adjunct got to be dean, it was the other way round.

I leave out the very exceptional case where a superstar is an adjunct and is later appointed dean. I know of no instance of that.

  • 2
    I know of a small college where Dept. Chair and Dean are rotating positions. Each person in, say, the math department is chair for the year. Each department rotates its chair into the dean position, so if you're unlucky enough to be chair of the math department that year, you get to be dean also. My friend was a new hire and still working on his Ph.D. and it was that position's turn to be chair and dean. At a small school like that, the positions mean little more than you have to do the course scheduling (which varies little from year to year.)
    – B. Goddard
    Jul 28, 2021 at 21:17
  • @B.Goddard, there are other, not so small, places in which the chair rotates through the tenured faculty a couple/three years at a time. The dean thing is new to me. Dartmouth used to have rotating chairs, but I don't know if they still maintain that.
    – Buffy
    Jul 28, 2021 at 23:32

Both of your definitions are too restrictive.

Even in the US, the term "adjunct professor" is used in at least two ways. The older meaning was for an extra appointment to a department for someone employed in another department or another institution. This meaning is still in use at some institutions, with "Adjunct Associate Professor" reserved for those with a regular position elsewhere. Such a position might involve no classroom teaching and no pay, for example, and just be there to allow this person to advise graduate students.

The newer meaning is a euphemism for part-time instructor. It is similar to calling a worker at a big box store an associate instead of a sales clerk. Words shift over time.

As to emeritus professors, there is no requirement that an emeritus professor teach, although many do. The rank of emeritus professor is somewhat formal, given to some retired professors, but it can be associated with certain rights. For example, the right to apply for a research grant, get an office, and if very lucky, a good parking sticker.

You need to know how these ranks are defined at a specific institution to make sense of what is happening. The dean might well have been a full professor at another institution and an unpaid adjunct full professor at the current one, then been hired as dean. Or not. It is hard to say. I would look at this person's CV to get a sense of what they have done over the years.

  • 7
    My emeritus status comes with a permanent email address and continued maintenance of my academic web page(s). Both are quite valuable to me.
    – Buffy
    Jul 28, 2021 at 15:58
  • @Buffy I have a permanent email address just from being an alumnus of my college. But it's a distinct domain from student/faculty.
    – Barmar
    Jul 29, 2021 at 14:40
  • 1
    @Barmar, Dartmouth used to do that, and I think it is a brilliant practice. The alumni office loves it in particular.
    – Buffy
    Jul 29, 2021 at 14:41

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