I for one have never understood the distinction between a regular prof with a prof Emeritus/Emerita aside from the obvious fact that a Prof. Emeritus is someone who is usually fairly elderly and has spent quite a bit of time in the University.

I am currently spending a working with a Prof. Emeritus who is the a supervisor/advisor to my project and conducts biweekly meetings (which are really brief chats about life) and am in need to make a serious request. I feel uncomfortable because he may have a lot of other work on the side. I do not know whether has classes on the side nor am I aware of any research activities.

How does a professor become Prof. Emeritus (is age-status a must?) and do Prof. Emeritus usually still actively conduct research, teach classes? What is the distinction between a retired professor and a Prof. Emeritus?

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    This question is largely answered on Wikipedia. – David Richerby Nov 24 '14 at 11:13
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    In the University of California system, emeritus is basically a synonym for retired (and now, minus any teaching callback, off the University budget and onto the retirement plan's). Eligibility is a combination of age and years-of-service. An emeritus professor who is supervising a student should expect the same requests as a younger faculty member (e.g., assistance in finding a postdoc). – Andrew Lazarus Nov 24 '14 at 16:21

To the best of my understanding, the primary function of a professor switching to emeritus status is that it frees up a faculty slot for a new hire. Emeritus is essentially retirement without giving up affiliation. An emeritus professor can ramp down their duties, go part time, etc. In some cases they may still do some teaching and supervising, and may have office space, but I believe they are typically no longer paid and no longer expected to fulfill normal faculty duties. That said, when they are still active, their advice and participation is often still quite valued by the active faculty.

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    +1. Basically emeritus faculty don't have duties as such. They sometimes still do faculty things, but only as much as they want to. – BrenBarn Nov 24 '14 at 8:09
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    +1. No more duties means no more required teaching and no more committee meetings. Some emeriti finally go full throttle with research, others essentially retire and pop up once a while to have coffee at their old department. If @IllegalImmigrant's emeritus invests the time to supervise him, he obviously is somewhat invested in his project. For purposes of making serious requests to him, I'd treat him like any other non-emeritus professor (who could just as well decline the request). – Stephan Kolassa Nov 24 '14 at 8:15
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    One other benefit a Professor Emeritus mentioned to me on switching to the role was that he was able to keep an office within the faculty as well, rather than retiring outright and having to do any research from home, etc. – DTR Nov 25 '14 at 2:29
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    Some of my best graduate courses were taught by emeritus professors: folks who were only teaching the subject they most loved and could devote otherwise unreasonable amounts of time and attention to the project. That serves their passion and my development. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Nov 25 '14 at 3:06

Emeritus faculty are a subset of retired faculty. At some universities, one gets the title "professor emeritus" practically automatically when one retires; at others, the title is a non-trivial honor. (Dean Rusk is reported to have explained "emeritus", at the time he retired, with the etymology: "e" means "out", and "meritus" means "deserves to be".)

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  • Actually, it's "ēx" ("out of") + "meritus" ("merit"). Or was that irony? :) – Stefano Sanfilippo Nov 24 '14 at 22:19
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    I think Latin allows "ex" to be shortened to "e" in some contexts. The first example that comes to mind is the motto of the United States, "E pluribus unum". – Andreas Blass Nov 25 '14 at 12:45

I may be mistaken (being surprised at @AndreasBlass' answer that not all retired faculty are "emeritus/emerita" [if gender matters]), but in the U.S. in the last 20+ years it seems that (at R1 universities, and maybe R2s) that "emerit*" just means "retired".

The cutesy wrangle about whether the "e(x) merit*" means "from merit" or "without merit" will probably never go away...

So far as I know, no emeritus faculty get any pay, although there may be some deals about benefits (health care in the U.S., ...) People may get to keep modest offices, in some cases, or be reduced to sharing with several other retirees, depending on status...

With widely available internet, and with crumbling infrastructure at many universities, the supposed advantage of "having an office" is evaporating. Many people have better internet, better control of AC or heat, easier parking, nicer space, ... _at_home_ rather than at the (once-regal?) office space on campus. I have a much smaller chance of getting mugged while working at home, already. I have a thermostat! A clean refrigerator. If I had a nice, big, old-fashioned slate blackboard I'd probably have my research students come to my house instead of going to campus to meet them (and have blackboards, luckily, but no AC, parking difficulties even with paid-for reservations, and traffic...)

Skirting faculty meetings, committee assignments, and administrative overhead is a great perk of being retired/emerit*.

In my experience, though, retired faculty do not teach, although they may participate in seminars. On one hand, there are serious conflicts-of-interest in having people who're paid $0$ teach classes, no matter their competence. On another, ... sure, why not let people who've stopped occupying a paid faculty slot still contribute? Unclear to me the wise solution here.

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