Monday, November 09, 2009

Part of the job 

So now some station discovered that -- shock! horror! -- faculty at state universities get sabbatical. It's true! And it's in ... the contract we signed when we agreed to our job. Article 19, Section C.
The purpose of a sabbatical leave is to enhance professional development, support department/unit goals, and/or meet the instructional, service, or research.
Subd. 1. The President/designee may grant a sabbatical leave to an eligible faculty member who proposes to undertake a scholarly research project, additional study, or other endeavor related to the purpose described above.
I'm in my 26th year of service at SCSU, and so far have had one year (back when it was 2/3 pay for a year-long sabbatical rather than 80%.) My work that year and two more years, during which the university did not pay me but expected me to return to repay my sabbatical -- more on this below -- lead eventually to a third year away to work as an adviser at the National Bank of Ukraine and to my first book. I'd vehemently disagree with the idea that I 'took time off'. Indeed, the KSTP report cannot deny that these faculty members on sabbatical were in fact improving themselves. Sabbatical is not vacation. In 2007-08, throughout our system, here's what the sabbaticals were used for:
Sabbaticals are a relatively recent phenomenon: Ivy League schools started their sabbatical programs towards the end of the 19th Century. They were designed not as an increase in vacation time but as "an investment of college funds designed to increase the efficiency of the teaching force." (Dartmouth, 1922.) MnSCU summarizes its sabbatical results:
...sabbatical leaves are an investment of the college/university in its academic future and reputation. Sabbatical leaves granted under the provisions of the collective bargaining agreements have permitted faculty to revitalize their teaching, improve their research skills, and maintain a vibrant, engaged, and up-to-date outlook on their profession.

One will recognize that sabbatical contains and derives from the word Sabbath, which holds two separate implications. One, it is intended to happen every seven years. As the report indicates, sometimes you cannot take sabbatical during the seventh year, or eighth, because your department would lose too many faculty and could not offer the courses needed to your students. So you wait. We are only guaranteed that we can go every ten years. Between seven and ten, your application gets scored, and you must have a minimum of 60% of the points scored or else you're out. Everyone knows the scoring rubric, and the applications typically are accepted. At the end of your sabbatical you complete a report on what you did.

But the other part of the sabbath that gets used in sabbatical is that it is a time of rest. Just as the Bible asks for land to recharge itself every seventh year (thanks to Jill Schneiderman for that observation) so too do faculty need to let the mind go wander once in a while. My own field changes from time to time. My next sabbatical -- I am one of those people who is asking to go away next year, seventeen years since my previous one -- will be my transition year to a post-chair life, one in which I start trying to teach economics more to people off this campus. But I need to figure out how to be effective in that teaching. I would like the inspiration to come during those thinking times in my day, but to actually build the course takes much longer. Should we have time to do that outside of the classroom?

So here's the real point, if you want to get to the dollars. If you tell me I have to do this job and never take a sabbatical, I would like to be compensated for giving up that right. Suppose my union and the state negotiate a 10% wage increase in return for the lost right. If I'm only guaranteed sabbatical every ten years, I only get one reassigned semester a decade. The state pays someone to replace me for that semester, and probably will not pay 50% of my salary, since that person is likely to be a lower-paid instructor (a young person just out of graduate school.) Are you better off or worse off, taxpayer-dollar-wise? And in the long-run, am I a better or worse instructor for having that time of rest, reflection and retraining?

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