what is a sabbatical anyway?

A sabbath rest, Day -36

“A writer is never just looking out of a window or staring into space. They are building a universe to share with the world.” — Brenda Ashworth Barry

Beginning in January, I get five months off, with pay. That’s a huge benefit. And opportunity. And while some business and ministries provide some sort of sabbatical break, universities have a long history of honoring this decidedly biblical practice, based on the idea of a sabbatical year in the Old Testament.

Here is the foundational text, from Leviticus 25:3-5:

For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the Lord. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap what grows of itself in your harvest, or gather the grapes of your undressed vine. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land.

There are other biblical notions of Sabbath, from a day the week to rest to the year of Jubilee (once every 50 years), but the idea of resting (the land and the person) so they are refreshed and even more fruitful is the core. And I consider myself blessed to have this one.

In academic pursuits it doesn’t actually always work out to be every seven years, although that is often considered the minimum expectation to be eligible. There are budget constraints and institutional needs to consider; this is only my third sabbatical in 36 years at the university. And while rest and restoration are part of it, it isn’t exactly time off. Just time off from teaching.

Note the statement from the faculty handbook:

The purpose of sabbatical leaves is to provide an opportunity for focused professional growth and development for the faculty member in accordance with departmental and institutional goals.

If you managed to read the word vacation in there somewhere, I missed it.

To get the sabbatical you have to make a case for the professional growth and development that may result. Here are the two pertinent requirements from the application process:

  • A statement describing the proposed activity with a supporting rationale explaining professional and/or institutional development.
  • Professional, departmental, and/or institutional benefits.

Basically, what’s the activity and what is the benefit, to me and to the university?

Photo by LN Dangol on Pexels.com

Since I will be blogging my way through this adventure, I will explore these questions in more detail. And, spoiler alert, in a pandemic year the answers are shifting beneath my feet, even as we make (uncertain) plans for how to use this time for the greatest benefit.

But, before I get too far into this, I wanted to remind you, and me, about the purpose of my sabbatical which begins (sort of) January 1.

First, I think rest and restoration are part of it. I don’t expect the ground to go fallow, to follow its agricultural roots (see what I did there?) But I do expect to return with new energy and ideas, and some of that will involve intentionality about resting and relaxing. Frankly, I’m not good at this. But at least I can stare out the window. So, it is a theme I will explore as we go along.

Second, there has to be personal growth, which always, in my mind, requires thoughtful risk-taking and new experiences. My original proposal was full of this, but since it involved going to Nepal, a country currently closed by Covid-19, I may be making some of this up as I go along. We’re still planning to go as soon as it opens but the timeframe and the original plans may shift, so that makes this blog important to me, as a record of personal growth over the next five months.

And finally, what is the benefit to the institution? Who knows? I expect to write and publish, but maybe not what I had hoped to write or publish. (See staring out the window, above.) But there should be some project or publication that the university can point to with some pride when it’s all over. Maybe the definitive guide to taking a sabbatical during a pandemic. But I’m hoping for something more useful.

Thanks for following this journey. And feel free to ask questions or leave comments.

3 thoughts on “what is a sabbatical anyway?”

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