Faculty at odds with University leave policy

Some say the current policy is ambiguous and hinders them from taking leaves from work.

Haley Hansen

For some tenure and tenure-track faculty members, spending a semester away from University of Minnesota classrooms to research abroad is crucial.

To make that opportunity more feasible, the Faculty Affairs Committee is looking for ways to refine the institution’s sabbatical and developmental leave policy.

Language in the current policy is too ambiguous, and by reworking it, more faculty members may reap the benefits of developmental leave, said Peh Ng, a University of Minnesota-Morris mathematics professor who chairs a subcommittee.

“It really is good for the University when faculty have the opportunity to do some kind of further development,” she said. “Just because someone’s tenured doesn’t mean that we can’t make a lot of improvement.”

Developmental leave — when University faculty members take off a set amount of time to work on research and travel — is available to professors after they’ve been at the University for a certain period of time.

The University offers different types of developmental leave, including a fully paid, single-semester leave and a more traditional and less competitive sabbatical, in which faculty members spend a semester or two away for half-salary.

The Faculty Affairs Committee is discussing ways to make time off easier for tenure-track faculty, including offering non-competitive single-semester leave.

Assistant Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Ole Gram said administrators have been working with faculty members to streamline the policy, but the University hasn’t finalized any changes.

Ng said when faculty members research at other schools and outside the country, they’re able to gain new skills and apply them to University classrooms when they return.

And many faculty members use developmental leave as a chance to finish research projects, Gram said.

He said, for example, a faculty member in classical studies might use developmental leave to go to Athens to look at artifacts.

Faculty Affairs Committee chair and computer science professor Joseph Konstan took a leave to learn more about what researchers in his field were doing abroad.

“I came away with a much broader feel for what the field is,” he said, “particularly, seeing the way my field was being treated in places like Brazil or India, or other places.”

Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs Allen Levine said developmental leave is a good way to stay updated on what’s happening in faculty members’ specific fields of study.

“Over your career, things change in your research area, and it’s useful to get both re-energized and re-educated,” he said.

Still, Levine said the culture surrounding developmental leave at the University varies by department.

“Some are very encouraging. They think it’s really important to do; others don’t think it’s as important,” he said. “But a lot of times a faculty member needs some retraining, and that’s the best way to get it.”

And Gram said taking time off from the University might not be an option for all faculty members — some have clinical duties or labs for which they’re responsible.

But if able, faculty members who take advantage of developmental leave not only benefit personally, but the school is also impacted, Konstan said.

“Inevitably, you’re bringing [experience] back,” he said, “not only to your research, but into your teaching.”