Monday, February 2, 2009

Sabbaticals from everything but teaching: Why the heck not?

I am presently enjoying one of the perks of academic life: the sabbatical! It's a much envied feature of the college teaching profession, and one that I have to say was much needed in my case.

But then it occurred to me: Faculty are granted sabbaticals from teaching (and service) in order to do their research. But why shouldn't there be chances to be granted a sabbatical from research (and service!) in order to concentrate on teaching? (I'm imagining someone, most likely at a Research 1 university, being told by a department chair or dean not to work on any articles or books for a year and "just teach.") It says something about our priorities in higher education that there aren't such sabbaticals. The message: Research is fulfilling, but teaching is a burden relief from which we should welcome.

Would any prestigious college or university have the nerve to propose sabbaticals to teach?


  1. We actually have those here where I teach. We call them "semesters"...

    (just kidding)

  2. When I first read this post, I thought, "Yeah, what a strange (and totally predictable) inconsistency" But then after reading Andrew's comment I started thinking about why such a thing doesn't exist.

    With 3/3 or 4/4 loads, you fit whatever research you do into your course schedule or weekends. If you were exempted from research for a little while, you would probably still have these gaps. Sure, you could better prepare and think about your courses, but at some point you want to think about things other than what you're teaching. For me it would feel a little unnatural not to fill them with research-oriented activities.

    This in turn got me thinking about what research actually is. From the university's (and the field's) perspective, is it really anything essentially different than teaching you do on your own time (to an audience of specialists and in a somewhat different format)?

    The other thought I had about your proposal, Michael, is that unlike a research sabbatical, an early "teaching" sabbatical would allow you to set up some solid courses that you wouldn't have to tinker with as much as you pursue research goals pre-tenure. For instance, I'd love to have on-line notes, question-banks, and powerpoint presentations for all my classes. It simply hasn't been done because at some point I have to choose between my classes and my career. You could easily teach off of a teaching sabbatical for four years. It's not as clear to me that research sabbaticals have as much payoff.

  3. Good points, Andrew and Adam. I guess in mind something like a reduction in one's teaching load with the express understanding that the added time would not be dedicated to research (and in fact, there'd be no expectation of your advancing your research agenda, as there is in typical sabbaticals). Such an arrangement might lead to a lot of "teaching productivity," as you predict, Adam.

  4. I like Adam's idea about using such a sabbatical to develop really good course materials that could then be reused for the next few years. I think if a "teaching sabbatical" were pitched as a "course development sabbatical," it might seem less unusual—perhaps because there's a tangible product at the end of it (or, at least, a product as tangible as the product of a "research sabbatical").

  5. I was pretty convinced by Adam's post, until I read -- "it simply hasn't been done because at some point I have to choose between my classes and my career." Isn't teaching an important part of an academic career?

    That such a line falls so naturally from an academic's lips makes me think teaching sabbaticals might be important. Administrators say they value teaching, and most professors say they do too. So, why don't we think it's valuable enough to support time devoted exclusively to developing and improving courses, without having to be teaching them at the same time? Maybe if we got that, we could integrate teaching and scholarship when we returned from sabbatical, and actually do our research alongside our teaching instead of on nights and weekends!

  6. This is interesting: as an adjunct with a 6/6 load, the only thing I have done is teaching. I know (or hope) that I will eventually be able to focus more on research, but I take my time now as an opportunity to focus specifically on my teaching method, and little else. Perhaps this is one aspect of adjuncting that is preferable to full-time employment: an adjunct is rarely required or expected to engage in service or research.


If you wish to use your name and don't have a blogger profile, please mark Name/URL in the list below. You can of course opt for Anonymous, but please keep in mind that multiple anonymous comments on a post are difficult to follow. Thanks!