Changes to sabbatical policy run into headwinds

Some faculty expressed concerns about eliminating the option for single-semester leave.

Austen Macalus

Proposed changes to the University of Minnesota’s sabbatical policy will undergo further review following opposition from several faculty members in the University Senate.

University officials put forth a revised policy that would allow for faculty to apply for a one-semester sabbatical at full pay, but eliminate the opportunity to take a more flexible single-semester leave. Some faculty raised concerns about losing the benefit at a Faculty Senate meeting earlier this month. While faculty take paid leave to conduct research, projects or other academic work, a sabbatical is also a period of paid leave with more stringent rules.

Under current University policy, eligible faculty can take a full year or a one-semester sabbatical, both at half-pay. Colleges may also allow a small number of faculty to take single-semester leaves, which are a more flexible option.

“What we heard throughout our consultation process is that that’s just not an option for some people based on their own financial circumstances,” said Rebecca Ropers-Huilman, vice provost for faculty and academic affairs, who presented the policy before several Senate committees this semester.

The revised policy keeps the full year sabbatical and bumps a one-semester sabbatical up to full pay, while eliminating the single-semester leave.

“That’s the real concern we’re trying to address: to make [sabbatical] possible for people who have a high quality scholarly idea for which more intensive time would be useful,” Ropers-Huilman said. “They would be able to do that with much much less attention to their own personal financial circumstances.”

Peh Ng, chair of the Senate Committee on Faculty Affairs, said many faculty members she talked to support the changes. Ng previously led the subcommittee that worked on the policy.

“By and large, faculty really are looking forward to having the one semester sabbatical fully funded,” Ng said.

Ropers-Huilman said changes would bring the University more in line with other Big Ten institutions. Most schools across the country offer a shorter sabbatical option, she said.

At the University, there is wide variation among how colleges use sabbaticals and leaves. Some colleges are more likely than others to grant leaves, Ropers-Huilman said. The new policy also helps formalize the process of applying for sabbatical, which she said will help provide more consistency across colleges.

She had expected to bring the revised policy to a vote at the Senate meeting on Nov. 1, but several faculty took issue with parts of the policy.

Physics professor Clement Pryke took issue with removing single-semester leaves, especially if the new policy implemented a more rigid application process for sabbaticals.

“I look at this and I’m being ask to give up something,” he said. “I’m a little disquieted that I’m being asked to give up my situation that I’ve personally had with no guarantee of … any sort of leaves being granted at all.”

Chemical engineering professor David Morse took a single-semester leave in the early 2000s because he was not eligible for a sabbatical at the time. Faculty must work at the University for at least six academic years before they are eligible for sabbatical, according to the policy.

Morse said he would like to see more flexibility for faculty to take sabbatical if the University takes away a single-semester leave.

Ropers-Huilman said the policy will undergo further revision in the coming months. “Basically, what’s happening with the new policy is some people read it and feel like they’re losing and other people feel like they are gaining,” she said. “That’s the sticking point.”

But the final policy may have changes not everyone will like.

“We’ll have to figure out what’s best for the entire University, not just best for what some people can make in a particular context,” Ropers-Huilman said. “Ultimately, it will be a question of individual benefit versus what’s best for the entire University.”