In college and universities, the general roles of faculty are teaching, research, and service to the institution, the profession, and the community. The extent to which faculty are expected to fulfill any one of these roles depends upon how the particular institution defines its mission. For example, some colleges define their primary mission to be instructing undergraduate students. In these institutions, the primary responsibilities for faculty are to teach courses to students and to advise them in their academic programs. Faculty members may also serve as advisers to student organizations and as members of various college committees.
Universities tend to be more multipurpose than colleges in their mission and functions. Since universities offer advanced study toward graduate and professional degrees, faculty are expected to do original research in their fields of academic specialization. They are also expected to publish their findings in scholarly books and journals so that scholars in other universities are aware of their work and contributions. Faculty members usually include the findings of their research in the courses they teach to students.
Most faculty at large universities teach both undergraduate and graduate students. They advise students in their academic programs and direct graduate students in preparing their master's theses and doctoral dissertations. (A thesis or a dissertation is an extensive research paper usually required for the satisfactory completion of an advanced degree).
In addition to their teaching and research responsibilities, faculty members serve on university, school, and departmental committees. They also are expected to be active members of professional societies and organizations in their academic field. For example, history professors are often members of the American Historical Association, while psychology professors are members of the American Psychological Association.
After they are hired by a college or university, faculty members receive a faculty rank as part of their appointment. Those who are beginning their teaching career and have little previous experience enter the profession as either instructors or assistant professors. The rank of assistant professor is slightly higher than that of instructor. After an assistant professor has acquired some teaching experience, conducted research, published articles or books, and served on institutional and departmental committees, he or she is usually promoted to associate professor. Faculty members generally remain at the assistant professor level for approximately five years before being promoted to associate professor. At many institutions, the rank of associate professor carries tenure, meaning that the person cannot be dismissed from his or her teaching position unless there is a very serious reason. Colleges and universities established tenure to assure professors that they have the academic freedom to teach their ideas without interference or fear of losing their jobs. The highest rank of the faculty is full professor, sometimes simply called professor. Retired professors generally receive the rank of professor emeritus.
To save money and to be able to quickly respond to changing trends in education, colleges and universities increasingly employ large numbers of part-time teachers who do not have faculty rank or tenure. Analysts estimate that nearly 30 percent of the faculty at four-year colleges and universities teach part-time. At community colleges, part-time teachers make up as much as 65 percent of the faculty. Part-time faculty often add special expertise to their teaching if they are practitioners in highly specialized fields such as medicine or law.
However, many part-time faculty cannot find full-time teaching jobs, despite being qualified for those positions. Part-time faculty usually receive lower salaries than faculty with full-time positions, forcing many to teach at several colleges or universities in order to earn an adequate income. In addition, some universities employ large numbers of teaching assistants, who teach undergraduate courses while completing their doctoral degree programs. Critics believe that reliance on part-time faculty and teaching assistants decreases the quality of instruction. They argue that part-time faculty and teaching assistants generally lack the teaching experience and commitment to the institution that full-time faculty bring.