By Parker Dunaway ’15
At Hampden-Sydney, faculty members focus on teaching the students, which consequently means that they do not always have time dedicated toward independent research in their field. For that reason, we have a sabbatical system. During this time, according to Dr. Stevens, Dean of Faculty, “faculty [get] time to learn new things, to go into their field in more depth, to stay at the cutting edge of their discipline and to bring that knowledge back to the classroom.” Dean Stevens commented that he is an avid supporter of the concept of sabbaticals because it allows professors to benefit students in the classroom.
According to the Faculty Handbook (2012-2013), “Any tenured member of the faculty above the rank of instructor who has served six years or more as a full-time member of the teaching staff is eligible for a sabbatical leave…” The time periods that these sabbaticals occupy are usually either a semester or a full academic year. The way we logistically deal with faculty members on leave is a matter of policy. If a professor gets approved to take his or her sabbatical for a semester, his or her department absorbs that professor’s classes, with the department chair’s consent and discretion; however, if a faculty member will be gone for an entire year the school hires a stand-in faculty member for the duration of the academic year. The current policy surrounding the means with which the faculty copes with a professor on leave is such so that departments do not have to drop too many sections of classes, limiting student enrollment, but there are some instances on campus that the policy is not fully taken into consideration.
This semester in the history department three professors are on sabbatical: Dr. Emmons, Dr. Lehman, and Dr. Greenspan. According to Dr. Coombs, Chair of the History department, following our system of six years of service to the college, “It just happened that they all came up in the same year.” The issue with three teachers being out at the same time is obvious in that there will be gaps in course offerings; however, there are some classes that those professors taught that were necessary for the department to continue. The department absorbed those classes via some professors adding extra classes to their schedules. Dr. Coombs did however say, “there’s no doubt that this has caused a little bit of adjustment because you’re basically swapping what would have been any where from nine to a maximum of twelve courses… we got four covered.” The question that comes up in this discussion is why not hire a stand-in professor due to the volume of classes these three professors teach. Well, the answer is because the current policy doesn’t typically allow for the hiring of professors for any less than a full academic year. Dr. Coombs noted that in a perfect world, taking financial issues out of the equation, regardless as to whether professors are gone for a full year or just a semester, they are still gone. “It doesn’t matter whether someone is gone for a year or they’re gone for a semester; they’re gone. You have to do something… Just saying, ‘we only cover for a year, we don’t cover for a semester,’ doesn’t do anything to confront the reality that the department is still eight courses short.” To those who might say that hiring a professor for a semester is impractical, Dr. Coombs suggested that “giving our proximity to Ph.D granting institutions—like UVA, like William and Mary—and the importance of getting teaching experience in terms of going on the academic job market, I think you can find people to come here and teach a class or come here for a semester, rather than a year.”
Another department who has had similar issues is Classics, although the Classics professors may have found a solution internally. According to Dr. Widdows, Assistant Professor of Classics, the three faculty members in the Classics department were all up for sabbatical around the same time. They resolved the issue by choosing to stagger the semesters in which each professor took a sabbatical in order that there wouldn’t be issues related to severely decreased course offerings etc. Although Dr. Widdows did say that the current policy usually satisfies the needs of situations involving sabbaticals and hiring teachers, the department suggested an idea that clashed with the current system. “We had talked about the option of [Dr. Siegel] taking one semester next year and me taking the other semester next year, and then the college would hire a replacement for the full year for that.” Dr. Widdows went on to say that, according to the current policy, that wasn’t possible. This is an instance where the policy might be changed to accommodate certain situations; however, Dr. Widdows did mention that she does see the possible issue the school would face by hiring a stand-in faculty member for just one semester.
Dean Stevens said, “I’m a big advocate of sabbaticals. If on occasion it is a problem and the process doesn’t adequately protect a department, then that is something to be vigilant about and watch for… but the process is designed to keep that from happening.” The question remains: is the policy adequate enough to properly serve and protect the students and faculty, or does it in certain situations hinder the departments from being able to offer the full amount of classes to students. A possible solution that has been submitted to this question suggests a change in policy that stipulates the number of faculty eligible for sabbatical at one given time depending on the size of the department.