Sabbaticals as retention

the provost’s presentation to the Florida Board of Governors earlier this month, retention has been on my brain (or maybe my brain drain). The UFF-USF bargaining team has wanted to change and improve the sabbatical program at USF and has put several proposals on the table. I have usually thought of sabbatical programs as a way to boost research programs. Sabbaticals are not crucial to disciplines where large grants are accessible and in years when the hit rate is above "miniscule" — those who can earn grants from NIH, NSF, or other agencies can reduce their teaching through the grants, when well-written grants are likely to be funded.

But not all well-written grants are funded, especially in years when federal research funding is cut (as it has been recently), and there are many disciplines outside the main federal funding routes (or at least those that can reduce teaching). USF faculty are beginning to win those types of awards, which is always good news: Anthropologist Kevin Yelvington recently won a Guggenheim, and Riccardo Marchi won a fellowship from the Getty last year.

But those awards are and always will be rare. Sabbatical programs are crucial for the disciplines outside large funding opportunities: faculty in English, history, linguistics, sociology, fine arts, and other fields need sabbatical opportunities to push their research forward. For decades, USF has languished with an anemic sabbatical program. With a tenured and tenure-track faculty group of around 1000, the UFF-USF bargaining unit usually has around 15 full-pay, one-semester sabbatical slots each year. That’s shameful, if we pretend to be a Carnegie Research-Extensive university.

It is also a missed opportunity. The structure of the sabbatical program makes it a retention program as well: if you take a sabbatical, you must stay at USF for the following year (or repay the entire salary for the sabbatical). It’s one of those programs that not only is a real benefit for faculty, but one that boosts the morale of anyone receiving a sabbatical. After all, faculty members who are on sabbatical have a period of time in which they are released from all other duties to focus on the scholarship they love. I have <em>never</em> heard a colleague coming back from sabbatical say, "Gee, I never should have taken this. I felt worse at the end than at the beginning."

In essence, a one-term, full-pay sabbatical is a 25% bonus that requires the recipient to stay at USF for two years (the year of the sabbatical and the following year). And a full-year, half-pay sabbatical in essence costs nothing to either USF or departments. If I were an administrator worried about retention, I’d want to give out sabbaticals like candy to productive faculty. Well, not like candy: you can’t give a sabbatical to everyone in a department in a single year. But sabbaticals are still the least expensive option for retention.

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