I used to see this all the time in my undergraduate university, so I know just where you're coming from. While I never asked specifically about them, I may have an answer based purely on my experiences.
Whenever I had a meeting with one of my professors, I would usually arrive a couple minutes early and the professor would usually be finishing up their previous meeting with student/colleague/phone conversation. Obviously I wouldn't want to intrude until they were finished but I did want to be able to go in as soon as they were done, so I would loiter outside their office until I could go in. If the professor had some of their research papers up on or next to their door, I could scan the titles and quickly learn about some of the topics they were interested in and what work they had done recently. This wasn't something that I would look up on their website, it was just something I could quickly learn about them in two minutes and file away for later. If they've published on something I was interested in, I could mention it in our meeting. If I was utterly confused and had no interest, no harm done. I always thought of it as a way for professors to market themselves to students who don't see them very often and are more acquaintances to the professor or department. Or perhaps like magazines that medical offices put in the waiting room - they're not supposed to send a message, they're there to pass the time and if you're in the mood for it you can learn something.
So in short, I think the papers are there to reach out to the audience that wouldn't look at your website and doesn't know a lot about your field, but may be interested either in your work or in learning something new about your field of study.