Faculty wanting more sabbatical opportunities

Pernilla Schickhardt

This semester, the academic sabbatical committee became a faculty senate committee.

“The academic sabbatical offers faculty members opportunities to renew themselves, the sabbatical is a form of human resource development,” said Frank Chorba, assistant professor of mass media and chair of the new committee.

Every seventh year full-time faculty on tenure can apply for the academic sabbatical, a one semester leave with full pay, or two semesters with half pay, to do research that can’t be done on campus.

Barbara Bowman, professor of psychology, spent last spring on sabbatical and already is planning for another term on sabbatical.

“It started with a desire to study more in forensic psychology. Probably, I am going to offer a new class from what I have learned,” said Bowman.

Academic sabbaticals mean a break from the ordinary, but also work.

“It is an intellectual vacation, from the usual responsibility and job. Even if it still means intellectual work,” said Ali Kahn, professor of law and chair of the faculty affairs committee. “There is a fatigue factor after teaching for six years. The sabbatical gives you a chance to start over again, like resting after a big exercise.”

“I thought I would do a lot of reading and I did. I got to specialize in a specific area in my field, and do what I didn’t have time to do while teaching,” said Bowman.

Each year about eight to 15 people apply for the academic sabbatical, seven to 10 are allowed to go each year.

“The number of sabbaticals we give is relative to the number of faculty we have, and it is in line with other universities out of state that we consider ourselves competitive with,” said Ron Wasserstein, vice president of academic affairs.

Faculty members have different views on whether the academic sabbatical is awarded to enough people, and often enough.

“Not enough individuals apply, and not enough individuals are rewarded,” said Chorba.

The professors interviewed agree that it would be good if more faculty members could go on sabbatical, but not on any expenses.

“It would be good if more faculty members could go on sabbatical, but the problem is money. And it is hard to replace a Ph.D. that is gone, if you can’t find someone of the same caliber, some classes may have to be shut down,” said Harold Rood, professor of philosophy and former chair of the academic sabbatical committee.

How many are awarded each year depends on funding capability and other priorities. Washburn is not a research institution, but still focuses on learning and helping students learn.

Still, some faculty members argue that more should get to go on academic sabbatical.

“It is a significant problem that some faculty gets turned down because of economic reasons. Teaching is so important and you can’t be serious about it without working for a cutting edge perspective,” said Chorba.

He is not the only one who wishes that money wasn’t an issue.

“Ideally everybody with a good proposal should get leave,” said Kahn.

However, there are no signs of any change in numbers or the frequency of academic sabbaticals.

“I know there are people that think the academic sabbatical should be awarded to more people or more often, and I look forward to a discussion about that in the faculty senate,” said Wasserstein.