A reader wonders how tenure-track and tenured faculty can interact in a harmonious way with non-tenure track faculty and others who may be in a precarious or otherwise difficult employment situation.
I suppose the obvious answer is to be as respectful and sympathetic as possible. My experience as a non-tenure track professor was brief and not entirely pleasant, in part because some of my tenured colleagues treated me as a lesser being whose opinions and overall existence were inconsequential to them. Some were at least polite and willing to converse with me; others could not be bothered; yet others were patronizing and rude.
In any collection of people -- academic or not -- there are going to be jerks and non-jerks. Now that I am of the tenured species, I try not to be one of the jerks who assumes that anyone without tenure, or at least a chance at tenure, is somehow inferior rather than just being at a different career stage, having a different career preference, or dealing with employment or life constraints (or bad luck) beyond their control.
Some of my not-on-the-tenure-track (NOTTT) colleagues have skills that my tenured and tenure-track T/TT colleagues and I very much admire. Also, we like them as people. It is not a problem interacting with them in a positive and constructive way. We are on different career tracks, but there is mutual respect between the T/TT faculty and our NOTTT colleagues.
But what if the jerks are the NOTTTs? How much should we empathize with beleaguered adjuncts and others, however underpaid and under-respected, if they are aggressively bitter and resentful, even towards those with no role in their difficult situations? That's more of a challenge, but there's a difference between expressing anger about an unfair situation and creating a hostile work environment.
It is the responsibility of the department chair or other administrators to create a good working environment for all employees of an academic unit. Obviously favoring one group of people over another in such a way as to make the not-valued group unhappy and hostile (as in the case described by the reader who e-mailed me) shows poor leadership.
If you are convinced that the situation could be improved and that the root of the problems is not just the lousy salaries, lack of benefits, and overall stressful working conditions of the NOTTTs (i.e., issues over which the department head may have little control), perhaps there is a mechanism for expressing concern about the hostile work environment. An assistant professor might be reluctant to criticize the department head's leadership skills, but if the problem is pervasive, perhaps a group of senior faculty can try to work out a constructive solution to the problem, if they are aware (or made aware) of it. Maybe there are some basic things that can be done within the department to improve the work environment.
An example: In one department with which I was associated, the T/TT faculty so hated faculty meetings that they didn't even consider inviting their NOTTT colleagues. Who would want to go to a faculty meeting if they didn't have to? The NOTTTs were lucky. But the NOTTT faculty felt excluded, marginalized, and disrespected because they were not explicitly invited to these meetings. Once the department head became aware of this morale issue, he invited the NOTTTs to the meetings and specifically sought their input on particular issues. Some came to the meetings, some didn't. Some came when there was a topic of interest, and the problem was largely solved.
Otherwise, if the situation is not solvable by any means at your disposal as an individual faculty member, all you can do is be respectful, kind, and understanding to your colleagues, tenured or not; try not to let resentful people bother you; seek advice from wise senior colleagues in your department; realize you are lucky to be on the tenure track; and focus on your own career, which is probably stressful enough as it is.
12 years ago