Section: archive

Help wanted: professors needed in multiple departments

By Phoebe Roe

Search committees are presently trying to find replacements for half of the 24 Kenyon professors planning to go on sabbatical next year, an unusually high number.

Ordinarily, between 10 and 18 professors, including some who teach in multiple departments, go on sabbatical each year. Even so, Provost Nayef Samhat doesnt think there will be a problem this coming year. The sabbatical provides the opportunity for an individual to renew themselves and renew their goals, he said. After coming to Kenyon in 2009, Samhat began to revamp the old sabbatical program. He realized that the greatest glitch was clustering, meaning that many professors from one department would be away on sabbatical at the same time. Samhat resolved this problem by working with department chairs to create a sabbatical schedule. We would make permanent changes in the sabbatical schedule to make it evenly spread out, he said.

The new schedule gives tenured professors the opportunity to go on sabbatical roughly once every eight years, provided that their sabbatical project is meaningful and substantive, Samhat said. While it seems that this schedule would prevent a large number of people from going on sabbatical at the same time, it really serves only to make sure that no department is missing more professors than any other.

As Samhat explained, some departments already have extra professors on hand to replace professors who go on sabbatical, but for those departments without replacements, a search committee made up of professors is enlisted to identify prospective replacements. The money for the professor searches comes out of a search budget controlled by the Provosts office. Professors are sent regionally and sometimes nationally to identify energetic candidates, and after a vetting process, a few of these candidates are invited to join the Kenyon faculty.

Resolving the clustering problem also helped with year-to-year sabbatical costs. Spreading sabbaticals out doesnt necessarily reduce a cost over time, but it makes the pressure on the budget from year to year much more manageable, Samhat said. Professors who are on sabbatical have the choice of taking a full- or half-year sabbatical. Professors who take half-year sabbaticals are given full pay, but those who take full-year sabbaticals are given only half pay. In order to incentivize professors to take full-year sabbaticals so that they can make more individual progress, Kenyon offers full-year sabbatical professors a supplement paycheck. This means that every professor who goes on sabbatical is given at least half pay plus a supplemental. This cost, combined with the cost of paying a replacement professor, plus the money required to send out a search committee, means that sabbaticals use a large percentage of Kenyons annual budget. These are an expensive aspect of the institutional operation, Samhat said. The search process to replace absent professors is an especially costly part of the operation.

Although replacing upwards of 20 professors seems daunting, Samhat is confident in his process.

Bringing an individual to campus to teach some courses enhances the student experience, providing opportunities to bring new ideas and topics to the curriculum so the whole system of sabbaticals is, I think, a positive experience, Samhat said.

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