Research Policy Committee
The lack of a true sabbatical policy puts UT Austin at a significant disadvantage compared with our peer public universities in faculty recruiting, retention, scholarly productivity, and national impact.
UT Austin current has two programs—the Faculty Research Assignment (FRA) and the Dean’s Fellows (DF)—that support faculty research leaves. Together, these programs are about two-thirds of a sabbatical program, and they are widely perceived by UT faculty as excessively competitive, inequitably distributed, and difficult to plan for.
A true sabbatical, in contrast, is a normal and expected part of a productive faculty member’s scholarly career. Once every seven years, a faculty member can apply for a full-year leave at half pay, or a half-year leave at full pay, in order to pursue serious concentrated scholarly efforts that will significantly benefit the University. A sabbatical requires a clear plan for scholarly work, and its scheduling must be coordinated with departmental needs. However, within those boundaries a faculty member can expect that an application for sabbatical will be approved.
We propose that The University of Texas at Austin establish a true sabbatical program as an expansion of the current Dean’s Fellows program. We believe that this is feasible without substantial new funding.
We propose that the current FRA program be redefined, not as a mechanism for obtaining research leave, but as an “internal funding agency” to which a faculty member can apply to support the “other half” of his or her salary while on a full-year sabbatical. Additional funds would improve the effectiveness of this program, but lack of new funds should not be a barrier to the creation of true sabbaticals.
Our analysis shows that full-year sabbaticals are, on average, revenue positive for the University. With care, half-year sabbaticals can be approximately revenue neutral. Currently, the large majority of sabbaticals are half-year. We suggest that the University encourage an increased proportion of full-year sabbaticals, and also help faculty members identify and obtain funds to cover the “other half” of faculty salary. Such funding sources would include research grants and funded visitor opportunities.
The gains from such a program would be increased recruitment and retention of top faculty and enhanced productivity of faculty over a career. With low cost and high benefits, we believe that creating a true sabbatical program should be a high priority for UT Austin.
A True Sabbatical Policy for UT AustinPURPOSE
Research Policy Committee
The Research Policy Committee proposes that UT expand the Dean's Fellows program into a true sabbatical program. UT will thereby reap institutional benefits via academically stronger faculty and increased competitiveness in faculty recruiting and retention.
KEY POINTS for a UT sabbatical policy:
- Enhanced faculty recruiting and retention
- Improved faculty scholarship
- Maintained high-quality teaching
- Program is fiscally responsible
- Revenue-positive for full-year sabbaticals
- Revenue-neutral for half-year sabbaticals
In the traditional sabbatical program, once every seven years a tenured faculty member can expect to receive one year's leave at half pay, or a half-year's leave at full pay. The purpose of this leave is to give the faculty member the time and freedom to pursue scholarly efforts in depth, renewing, perhaps redirecting, and definitely re-energizing each person’s ability to make significant scholarly contributions.
Sabbaticals have been shown to be an effective way to increase the scholarly and teaching productivity of faculty members and to enhance the amount of grant funding brought to the institution. Sabbaticals enrich the University with knowledge and skills that are obtained elsewhere and brought back and shared with colleagues and students at UT. Sabbaticals also enhance the national and international impact of UT-based scholarship, as our faculty members communicate their expertise to colleagues during extended visits at other institutions.
The sabbatical leave is not an unconditional entitlement. A request for sabbatical requires a demonstrated intent to pursue scholarly efforts rather than, say, purely rest and relaxation. However, neither is it typically viewed as a highly competitive program.Tenured UT Austin faculty should be able to assume that a request for a sabbatical leave to pursue a reasonably formulated plan of scholarly activity will be granted.
WHAT IS THE CURRENT UT PLAN?
The University of Texas at Austin currently does not have a true sabbatical program. There are two initiatives that do support faculty leaves (the faculty research assignment (FRA) and the Deans’ fellows (DF) programs). Both are competitive. Additionally, between them, the FRA and DF programs provide less than two-thirds of the salary coverage of a sabbatical program. This is a significant gap that, as shown below, can be filled without additional cost to UT.
In 2001-02, there were approximately 1400 tenured faculty members at UT. If each took a sabbatical every seven years, one would expect 200 faculty members to be on sabbatical in a given year. For 2001-02, 40 people received FRAs, and 84 received DF leaves. This is a total of 124 faculty members, only 62% of the “ideal” 200 to maintain an ideal environment for recruitment, retention, and scholarship.
Currently, approximately 80% of FRA awards are half-year and all DF awards are for half-year leaves. Below, we argue that, once the sabbatical program is implemented, a gradual shift to the one-year leave for most faculty members will increase the scholarly gains as well as the financial savings to the University.
Of great significance, there is a clear perception among our faculty that UT has no sabbatical program. FRA and DF leaves are perceived as too competitive for the salary provided and often distributed inequitably. The result is that some faculty report that it is not worth the effort to apply. The difficulty of planning, especially for a full-year leave, is very discouraging.
Our committee has heard numerous anecdotal reports that the lack of sabbaticals at UT is a specific barrier to recruitment and retention of the best faculty. Departments report being careful to avoid the topic of sabbaticals during faculty recruiting. In some cases, candidates ask explicitly, and the truth clearly contributes to losing strong candidates to our peer universities. In other cases, newly recruited faculty members have been shocked to discover the lack of sabbaticals. This was a contributing factor in our loss of a recently-tenured Sloan Fellow.
A true sabbatical program would make UT more competitive nationally in recruiting and retaining the best faculty members. Their scholarship and national impact would be enhanced, which has many positive impacts on the University, including increased grant funding.
SABBATICAL FEASIBILITY - THE FULL-YEAR CASE
Consider a “typical'' tenured faculty member, Professor P, who takes a full year sabbatical at half pay. UT’s instructional budget includes funding for Professor P's full salary and benefits for nine months. During the sabbatical year, UT will pay Professor P one-half salary plus nine months of benefits.
SAVINGS TO UT FROM THE SABBATICAL: How much will it cost to cover Professor P's duties during the year? Assume that Professor P teaches four courses per year: two undergraduate courses, one graduate course, and one graduate research seminar. Consider the disposition of Prof P's duties during the sabbatical:
TYPICAL UT FACULTY MEMBER’S DUTIES
DUTY DISPOSITION Research/scholarship Continues, expanded Classroom teaching
2 Undergraduate courses Replacement required. 1 Graduate course Replacement required 50% of the time 1 Graduate seminar Replacement not required Independent instruction Continues with minor modifications Service
Internal (committees) Not replaced External Continues with minor modifications
A substantial amount of the effort that UT expects from a productive faculty member continues during the sabbatical. Some is not replaced. However, certain duties must be replaced. We assume for our “typical” Professor P that this is an average of 2.5 classroom courses out of the 4 listed above. While the amount of replacement will vary from College to College, the value of 2.5 is likely to be the median value across the UT campus.
FINANCIAL SAVING CALCULATION: Consider the cost of temporary faculty to replace Professor P for 2.5 courses (just over half the teaching load).1 If the replacement cost (with or without benefits) is less than half of Professor P's salary (exclusive of benefits) then Professor P's sabbatical is revenue positive to UT.
In general, replacement faculty members are available at substantially lower cost than tenured faculty members, but this relationship must be evaluated separately for each College. We provide suggestions below for ensuring high quality replacement teachers.
It is important to remember that, in addition to the scholarly value of the sabbatical leave, long-term improvements to Professor P's teaching are real benefits to UT that can be quantified through teaching evaluations and teaching awards.
SABBATICAL FEASIBILITY - THE HALF-YEAR CASE
Many faculty members prefer the half-year sabbatical, often due to financial constraints. If Professor P’s half-year sabbatical is to be revenue-neutral for UT, it will require the same constraints as the current Dean’s Fellows program. That is, the Department and College certify that the teaching responsibilities of the faculty member going on leave can be satisfactorily handled within the existing resources of the department.
Referring to the above table of duties and dispositions, Professor P would arrange teaching responsibilities so that courses requiring replacements would be taught during the non-sabbatical semester. An average of 0.5 courses per faculty member on half-year sabbatical could still require replacement, with cost distributed across the Department, the College, and the University. Note that this is the replacement cost for one-eighth of the teaching load, for less than one-seventh of the tenured faculty, and is not likely to be a major burden on the University’s budget.
We suggest that sabbatical policy should encourage more full-year sabbaticals and fewer half-year sabbaticals, but both must be available.
SUMMARY OF BUDGET IMPACT
Under the present proposal, the full-year sabbatical will be revenue positive for UT, while the half-year sabbatical will be approximately revenue-neutral. We are not considering the differences between the instructional budget and other types of funds in this document.
HOW DOES A FACULTY MEMBER APPLY FOR A SABBATICAL?
Tenured UT faculty members with sufficient service (typically six years) are eligible to request a sabbatical. Requirements for obtaining a sabbatical:
WHAT ABOUT FRINGE BENEFITS?
- Department chair and dean must certify that the sabbatical will not cause a hardship for the department.
- A brief proposal of scholarly work planned for the sabbatical is provided, justifying its long-term benefits to the University.
- A brief report of accomplishments is provided after the sabbatical.
Since a sabbatical is a normal part of a scholarly career, the usual fringe benefits should be paid over the entire period.
WHAT ABOUT THE FRA PROGRAM?
We propose that the FRA program would become a competitive internal funding mechanism to which faculty members can apply for grant support. The major purpose of FRA funding should be to help support the “other half” salary during full-year sabbaticals.
A second purpose for FRA funding could be to provide “subvention grants'' to UT departments, to help support the cost of necessary replacement faculty, especially during half-year sabbaticals. While we provide this suggestion in an attempt to make our sabbatical proposal revenue-neutral or revenue-positive, we believe that using FRA funding for this purpose obscures the clarity of the FRA’s mission. Subvention grants to meet departmental costs should come from separate funds, and should not be linked to approval of individual faculty members’ sabbatical applications. By keeping the FRA mission focused, it should be more possible for the University to seek outside Foundation support for this effort.
Under current FRA policy, grants are available as frequently as every five years. We do not propose to change this policy. Full-year sabbaticals at intervals less than seven years could then be approved in those instances in which an FRA or other prestigious grant is received.
WHAT ABOUT TEMPORARY FACULTY?
UT is under continuing pressure to decrease the number of temporary faculty teaching our students. The current sabbatical proposal could increase the number of temporary faculty slightly. However, we make three observations.
First, we believe that sabbatical leave will have a strong positive benefit on teaching by UT faculty because the faculty will be better trained and more energized. Furthermore, some sabbaticals will have the explicit purpose of developing innovative teaching methods or courses.
Second, because of the importance of maintaining the highest classroom teaching standards, we suggest that UT create a new high-prestige two-year Instructorship Program, modeled after the Gibbs Instructorship at Yale or the C. L. E. Moore Instructorship at MIT.2 Here, outstanding new PhDs would be given two-year appointments including a moderate teaching load, advanced training on teaching by the UT Center for Teaching Effectiveness, and mentoring in the host department for both research and teaching.
The prestige of these appointments, and the quality of the faculty members holding the positions should help insure the highest quality of UT education. In some disciplines, it may be possible to fund a prestigious Instructorship for young PhDs with the money saved by senior faculty going on full-year sabbaticals. In others, additional funding may be required. However, with separate naming opportunities for the Instructorships in each department, and high prestige, endowed support for these Instructorships should be an attractive target for major fund-raising.
Third, since the existing FRA and DF programs are equivalent to approximately two-thirds of a true sabbatical program, the additional impact of the proposed sabbatical program on increased number of temporary faculty or decreased number of courses offered is only one third of the number of faculty involved, assuming full utilization.
WHAT ABOUT THE NUMBER OF COURSES OFFERED?
Over a seven-year period without a sabbatical, our nominal Professor P would teach twenty-eight courses. With a full-year sabbatical, Professor P would teach twenty-four courses, and 2.5 courses would be taught by replacement faculty, for a total of 26.5 courses. Therefore, part of the institutional cost of a sabbatical program is that slightly fewer courses are taught.
The decreased number of courses offered could be addressed with a combination of several strategies:
- increase the number of tenure-track faculty at UT;
- hire additional temporary faculty to teach more courses;
- require an unbalanced teaching load as part of the half-year sabbatical;
- accept a small decrease in the number of courses offered.
While each of these strategies has impact on the University, the overall impact will be small and, we believe, will be much less than the positive impact of a true sabbatical program. In particular, the increased accomplishment and vigor of faculty returning from sabbatical leave benefits students through improved quality of courses taught.
WHAT ABOUT EVALUATION?
We believe that it will be important to evaluate the usage and impact of the true sabbatical program, especially in comparison with the current FRA and DF programs. Questions that will be important to answer include:
- What is the rate of utilization of the sabbatical program?
- What proportion of faculty members use full-year versus half-year sabbaticals?
- How is the “other half” of support obtained for full-year sabbaticals?
- How are classroom teaching responsibilities handled?
- How are individual instruction responsibilities handled?
- How are other service responsibilities handled?
- What increments in scholarly productivity are directly due to the sabbatical?
- What external funding was obtained as a result of the sabbatical?
- What other benefits to scholarship and teaching resulted from the sabbatical?
- What benefits to the reputation of UT Austin resulted from the sabbatical?
The information to answer these questions could be obtained by tabulating reports required of each faculty member on return from sabbatical leave. We envision that there should be long-term followup of faculty productivity to assess the real impact of the sabbatical.
SABBATICALS AT COMPARABLE UNIVERSITIES
We surveyed sabbatical programs at five comparable universities: UC Berkeley,3 UCLA,4 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,5 University of Michigan,6 and University of Wisconsin-Madison,7 as well as a number of others. The references provided are primarily the formal policies, although in many cases we were also able to review reports discussing experience with sabbaticals in practice.
These institutions have sabbatical policies quite similar to what we propose. Like our proposal, they emphasize that the sabbatical exists for the long-term benefit of the institution, that it is not an entitlement, and that it is conditional on arranging that the faculty member’s teaching responsibilities are covered appropriately. Several institutions observe that the institutional financial cost of providing sabbaticals is not large.
It is worth noting that the term “sabbatical” is universally used by the prominent universities with whom we like to compare ourselves. Lesser universities often use other terms such as “faculty research assignment.”
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
We propose a true sabbatical program for UT based on the current Dean’s Fellows program that will accommodate two different approaches to the sabbatical:
The full-year sabbatical will yield great scholarly gains for the faculty and be revenue-positive for UT;
The half-year sabbatical will still yield scholarly gains and will be revenue-neutral for UT;
UT should encourage a gradual shift toward full-year sabbaticals
The current FRA program should be reconfigured as an “internal funding agency” that competitively evaluates proposals to support the “other half” of full-year sabbaticals, with essentially the same eligibility requirements as the existing program.
We suggest a long-term evaluation process to assess the benefits of the sabbatical program.
We also suggest a prestigious Instructorship Program to ensure the highest quality teaching from temporary instructors.
Having a true sabbatical program will pay major dividends to The University of Texas at Austin in terms of faculty recruiting, retention, scholarly productivity, and national impact.
Benjamin Kuipers, chair