sabbatical

Maria Howard, a professor in the philosophy department, said sabbatical allows time for professors to reflect on their projects.

The term "sabbatical" comes from the Hebrew word "sabbath," meaning a time of rest. But for professors at Gonzaga University and beyond, sabbatical is much more than a time to relax.

“For academics, usually it’s a time to focus on your research or your teaching or a project that you’ve been working on in some way that maybe you haven’t been able to give the attention to because of all of the distractions of the job,” said Ann Ciasullo, chair of GU's English department. “At Gonzaga they happen every seven years.” 

Sabbatical is a time for professors to step back and focus on the things that may fall by the wayside during day-to-day teaching, including special projects, research and pedagogy, the practice and improvement of teaching.

“When you come back from something like that you’re refreshed, in lots of ways, and when you’re refreshed, you’re relaxed, you’re a better teacher,” said Heather Crandall, chair of the communication studies department.

At a teaching university like GU, constantly improving the craft is all the more important.

Traditionally, sabbatical is available once a professor is granted tenure or a permanent position at their institution, typically after seven years of employment. While not every professor at GU has taken a sabbatical or plans to, it’s something many long-term professors look forward to.

“I will take any sabbatical I could ever be offered,” Crandall said.

However, sabbatical is much more than a vacation. Since sabbatical is paid time away from a professor’s usual position, there is a process by which professors apply and outline how they intend to use their time.

“When you go on sabbatical, you have to first put in a proposal the year before and outline the projects that you are going to do,” Ciasullo said.

These projects vary widely in scope and scale, which are largely dependent upon the discipline of the professor and their field of expertise.

“Some people have very research focused sabbaticals, and some have ones that are really focused on developing their teaching,” Ciasullo said.

Some professors spend their time writing books or articles while others devote their time to research. Some spend their time traveling to visit archives at other institutions or attending conferences and workshops in other countries. 

“I think that is the common thing, and most people ask, ‘oh you’re going to go on sabbatical, where are you going?’ But I didn’t go anywhere,” Crandall said.

At GU, professors on sabbatical are paid during their time away from campus, a standard practice among higher education professionals. But if a professor takes the entire academic year for their sabbatical, their pay is cut to three-quarters of what it would normally be.

“I found it was OK,” Crandall said. “I had planned, you know, and I wouldn’t have taken it if I hadn’t figured out how to budget for it first.”

Whether or not a professor is granted a sabbatical is historically not competitive at GU, said Maria Howard,  a professor in the philosophy department. 

For a professor to be granted a sabbatical depends on various factors, such as their department, individual specialties and if there is professor available to cover their classes while on sabbatical, Crandall said. 

However, the process for applying for a sabbatical is standardized.

 "It doesn’t vary from department to department at all," Ciasullo said.

Once a professor has been granted tenure, they may approach the chair of their department with a plan of how they wish to spend their time while on sabbatical.

The chair of the department reviews the request and writes a letter in support or opposition of the request, which gets referred to the dean of the professor’s respective college. Through discussion with the provost, it is decided whether or not the professor may go on sabbatical.

While many factors may influence a sabbatical request’s approval, a positive track record on previous sabbaticals is perhaps the most important.

“You write a report and you turn it in, and so the next sabbatical, that report will be used to determine if [you] should have another sabbatical," Crandall said. "So I didn’t want to not do a good job of it."

She spent her first sabbatical co-authoring a book on gendered communication with other faculty at GU.

“You can choose to take a semester or a year," Crandall said. "I chose a year, because like I said, I’ve only had one, and I thought, ‘go big!’ It was a wonderful thing to have asked for the sabbatical request and then complete this project that I’d wanted to do."

Ciasullo created the first-year seminar course, ‘Freaks, Geeks, and Outsiders,’ co-authored an article on bromance films and attended a summer school in London on critical theory.

“For me, it was exactly what it was supposed to be, which was a pause, a moment of rest,” Ciasullo said.

During her upcoming sabbatical, Ciasullo intends to finish a book she is currently authoring on the book and film ‘The Outsiders,’ develop new courses and look into alternative grading systems.

While sabbatical is intended to be productive, it is also a time of rest.

Sabbatical allows professors to have the ideal mental space to reflect on scholarly projects unabated, Howard said. 

“You get a little bit of a break from the routine,” Crandall said. “I definitely wanted to sleep in, and I did.”

Sam Fedor is a contributor.