You may feel isolated, alienated, invisible, marginalized, and detached from your academic unit. You may not be part of the faculty mailing list as big decisions are being made without your input, but nonetheless affect you. It is much easier to do nothing. Or, you can start including yourself in the life of your academic unit in a variety of ways that need not always centre on your dissatisfaction with your contract status. I will offer a few suggestions on how you can better integrate with your colleagues, be heard, and seek even those small ways by which you can gain job satisfaction. This in no way vitiates the grim realities that face adjuncts in a system of inequity.
Indulge your passion
Although you may be overworked with heavy teaching load, it is essential that you take some time to develop your research profile if research is the gold standard in your discipline. It may be unlikely that you are eligible to apply for major funding, but nothing prevents you from writing an article or two when time permits. When it comes to academic freedom, it may be the case that as an adjunct you have even more freedom than your tenured colleagues. Granted, it is not an ideal freedom whereby one is supported to pursue intellectual curiosity wherever it may lead, for if one is simply ignored or treated as invisible. Granted, you may have the same degree of academic freedom as an amateur hobbyist or someone not in any way employed at university. If your contract is solely for teaching duties, you do not need to gain clearance from a dean for your research direction, nor do you have to agonize over the tedious and anxiety-inducing aspects of filling out major grant applications.
Treat part-time like part-time, if possible
If at all possible, you can moonlight in other areas that may not have a direct connection to your field of expertise. It should be well known, however, that your status as part-time is largely in name only. You have only to consider the many hours you put into course preparation, revisions, and additional student contact hours to understand that there is a large discrepancy between the compensable and the real hours you commit. In addition, you may teach at other institutions, and so your weekly hours may far exceed what would be considered full time hours. Although I would counsel treating part-time as part-time so that it occupies your mind and activities on a part-time basis, putting your best efforts into it will not hurt. Caution must be exercised in this, for doing the absolute minimum may compromise your own integrity as an educator. Logically it is sound practice to do only what you are compensated for, but ethically this can be problematic and could harm the perception of contract faculty overall.
You may bemoan the brute fact that despite all your efforts in teaching and possibly research that the full-time faculty do not recognize it, do not come out in support when you give a talk, or congratulate you on your newest peer-reviewed article. However, it may also be the case that full-time faculty, seeing their workloads increase in assuming ever more administrative duties, may not even have the time to give more fulsome support and recognition to their other full-time colleagues. It may be a myth that full-time faculty gather in secret to do nothing other than congratulate one another over their academic accomplishments. If you are waiting for someone to recognize you as an asset, you must first recognize yourself. Practically, how is this done? Despite how you may be (mis)treated or perceived as simply “not good enough” for a more secure position, tell yourself I am not a second-rate scholar. You can also take some degree of personal validation that your students prosper from your strong and passionate commitment to their learning outcomes.
Take ownership of a title
At a few universities, adjuncts with an earned doctorate are given the title of Assistant Professor, and although this may obfuscate the harsh realities of poor pay and class division, it is a title that is well deserved. In the article, It Hurts When You Call Me Professor, I certainly agree with its premises, but may differ on how to approach the idea of students not understanding the internal class divisions of academia. That title is not for the benefit of the students: that title is for you. Chances are you perform many of the same functions as your tenured colleagues: you teach, you may contribute time to service, and you may have an active research program. You come by that title honestly. I would also extend this idea of title-pride to those sessionals who do not have an earned doctorate, but teach in fields such as accounting whereby said sessionals have a professional designation. Ultimately, it is unhelpful to replicate any class division within the sessional ranks by capriciously attributing a higher value to one sessional over another on the basis of earned degree or professional designation, for we are all academic workers whose contributions are so essential, yet so frequently under-appreciated.
It is hard to feel much attachment and bonding to either your University or your department when you are treated as an entirely disposable individual, who does not merit any consideration for a permanent position. You are given no loyalty by the institution, which is willing to exploit your cheap labour, but gives little back.
One collective agreement I taught under explicitly reserved the title Professor for full-time tenure/tenure track faculty. Part-time faculty were warned via email that introducing oneself as ‘Professor X’ or allowing others to address and/or introduce you as ‘Professor X’ or as a professor at X University contravened the collective agreement and such misrepresentation is subject to disciplinary action. I’ve avoided teaching there (perhaps was blackballed) after I challenged the absurdity of this clause and its heavy handed interpretation.