An Argument for Sabbaticals

Josh Kim writes that institutions would benefit from giving instructional designers and other non-professor educators time for concentrated scholarship and professional development.

August 30, 2017

"At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release.” Deuteronomy 15

Could non-faculty educators ever be eligible for sabbaticals? In this age of permanent scarcity and structural under-staffing this question may strike some as ridiculous.

Sabbaticals, you might say, are a vestige of a different time. Today, a minority of faculty are eligible for sabbatical leave as only a minority of faculty are on the tenure track.

The very notion of seven years of full-time service making one eligible for a half-year release with full pay for concentrated scholarship -- or a full-year at half pay -- must seem an unimaginable luxury to many postsecondary educators. How can one even think to advocate for sabbaticals for instructional designers, media educators, faculty developers and other non-faculty educators when so few faculty qualify for this benefit?

Well, I’m here argue for sabbaticals for non-faculty educators. This argument is based on the idea that the colleges and universities that non-faculty educators work at would benefit from carving out a structure that promotes scholarship, professional development and renewal.

Why should a school extend sabbaticals to its alt-academics, instructional designers and other non-traditional educators? If you’ve had the opportunity to recruit for instructional designers, assessment experts or media educators in the past few years you know first-hand just how difficult it is bring these highly qualified folks to our campuses. Some roles -- such as instructional designers -- are particularly in demand. The growth of online and blended education has necessitated the recruitment to our campuses of more education professionals with expertise in learning science, course design and educational technologies.

With colleges and universities working so hard to recruit and retain its instructional design and other non-faculty educators, the opportunity to engage in intense scholarship and/or skill development may be an attractive (and cost-effective) method to find and keep talent.

Collaborating on Research

Beyond the recruitment and retention benefits, extending sabbatical leave to scholars working outside traditional faculty appointments would recognize the diversity of who is doing research on our campuses. Many non-faculty educators are also engaged in research. The scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL) is a vibrant and rich field of inquiry, with traditional and non-traditional educators often collaborating on research. 

Should sabbaticals for non-faculty educators be limited only to scholarship? A good case can be made that creating space for a half- or full-year away from normal operational duties would be good for the organization in many ways. Education professionals who are not focused on scholarship could use the time to train and credential in new skills -- and will therefore be able to fill critical roles at their institutions. Every college and university needs more experts in data analysis, cyber security, networking, assessment, instructional design, information science, project management -- and much more -- and a sabbatical would enable the existing campus workforce to get that training.

Sabbaticals for non-faculty educators would also force schools to cross-train staff, so as to avoid over dependence on any individual. Nobody should be irreplaceable in our postsecondary workforce, and structured sabbatical leave would motivate managers to proactively plan for times when critical workers will become unavailable. This planning would yield benefits when unplanned work absences become necessary, such as when a professional must care for an ailing parent or deal with his or her own health challenges.

Are there examples of non-faculty educators being eligible for sabbaticals? How might we initiative a discussion on our campuses, and within the larger postsecondary community, around the idea of sabbaticals for educators who are not professors?

What would you do on your sabbatical? Let me know.


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