Academic journal article The Journal of Faculty Development

Faculty Sabbatical Leaves: Evidence from NSOPF, 1999 and 2004

Academic journal article The Journal of Faculty Development

Faculty Sabbatical Leaves: Evidence from NSOPF, 1999 and 2004

Article excerpt

In the context of increased expectations for accountability and growing controversy surrounding sabbatical leave programs, it is important to address seemingly simple questions of who is or should be awarded a sabbatical and what the rationale is for the award. The study attempted to offer some insight on these issues by examining the factors that related to faculty participation in sabbatical leave programs using the 1999 and 2004 NSOPF data sets. More specifically, the study examined how faculty members' selected demographic characteristics, their career position, and research productivity were related to the likelihood of their participation in sabbaticals. The results of this study seem to indicate that sabbaticals are employed more as a reward for past performance, service, and scholarly achievement rather than as a developmental strategy to help faculty improve.

The quality of a college or university's faculty is the most important asset for institutions of higher education (e.g., Gappa, Austin, & Trice, 2007; Schuster & Finkelstein, 2006) . The work of faculty in the areas of teaching, research, service, and academic governance is what enables colleges and universities to achieve their basic missions (Gappa, Austin, & Trice, 2007). Committed, engaged, and productive faculty is fundamental to the institution's ability to meet the growing demands of the changing times and move forward effectively (Bai, 1999; Gappa, Austin, «Sc Trice, 2007; Meehan, 1999). More than ever before, higher education institutions "depend on their faculty members' competence and commitment to increase steadily over time to meet the institution's ever changing circumstances and goals" (Gappa, Austin, & Trice, 2007, p. 4). If higher education leaders accept this notion that faculty quality is truly a reflection of institutional quality and effectiveness, then investment in faculty development must be seen as the "most critical strategic choice" for colleges and universities (Gappa, Austin, & Trice, 2007, p. 5).

Many faculty development strategies exist, ranging from in-service workshops and professional conferences to auditing courses and seminars, but one of the most visible and increasingly costly strategies is sabbatical leave programs (e.g., Kirk, Downey, Duckett, & Woody, 2000; Roberts, 2007; Reynolds, 1990; Thompson & Louth, 2003; Wang, 2008). The sabbatical was first used as a hiring incentive at Harvard University, and since then, has continued to be seen as a unique benefit to life in the academy (Meehan, 1999; Miller & Bai, 2003; Sima, 2000). Sabbaticals allow faculty members to have time away from traditional academic duties to reflect on practice, participate in various activities, focus time on research or service, and renew the energies necessary for being an effective teacher and/ or researcher (Zahorski, 1994).

Despite the fact that sabbaticals have been regarded as "a cherished part of academic life" (Sima, 2000, p. 67), there has been a growing controversy about their use, purpose, and value (e.g., Bai, 1999; Bai & Miller, 2001; Sima & Denton, 1995). Questions related to the accountability of sabbatical leaves have led higher education institutions to more clearly formulate processes for applying, taking, and ending a sabbatical leave (Tiedje & Collins, 1996). In some states, there have been attempts from state coordinating bodies and legislatures to regulate who gets sabbatical leaves and how they can be used (Lively, 1993). With dwindling financial resources, higher education institutions will be further pressured to operate more efficiently, be more accountable to the public and external constituents, and reexamine if "sabbaticals provide a good 'rate-of-return' for the fiscal investment" (Miller & Bai, 2003, p. 38). In the context of increased expectations for accountability and growing controversy surrounding sabbatical leave programs, it is important to address the seemingly simple questions of who is or should be awarded a sabbatical and what the rationale is for the award. …

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