Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sabbatical is sacred (in more ways than one)

"I'm supposed to be on sabbatical," he said, "but of course I keep getting dragged back in to the department for busy work."

The first time I heard this from a faculty member, I assumed that he simply had personal issues with boundaries and saying "no." The second time I heard it (this time the professor was female), I thought perhaps it was a characteristic of a certain type of individual who needed to feel needed, even during the time for travel, research and writing with which universities have traditionally rewarded their successful post-tenure faculty. By the third time, however, I realized we have a mini-epidemic on our hands, and one that every university should address: sabbatical is sacred, and it must be respected both by the individual on sabbatical, and by the colleagues back in the home department. Allowing oneself to be dragged back from sabbatical for meetings, political squabbles, personnel matters, and other department business is a disservice both to oneself and to the home university. No other profession is so generous in offering an academic year off for travel and research, and everyone should treasure it and work to preserve it.

But what really happens? How does sabbatical break down, and why? I'd love to hear from readers about it, and why you think it's so hard to stay away. Is it the individual professor's fault? That of the department? The university as a whole? Is it just human nature? I'm sure that many people take their sabbaticals and return with manuscripts in hand, but what happens when that doesn't happen? I'll hunt to see if there are any journal articles on this important subject.

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