Q: What criteria are used to determine whether or not a sabbatical is approved?

December 16, 2015

A:         As stated in University Policy HR 17, the purpose of a sabbatical leave is “To provide a leave of absence with pay for purposes of intensive study or research which has as its outcome increasing the quality of the individual's future contribution to the University. A sabbatical is a privilege which may be granted to an individual who has demonstrated by publication, teaching, exhibition or performance an above average ability in scholarship, research, or other creative accomplishment.”

There is a specific application and review process spelled out in the policy. As part of that process, a college-level sabbatical leave committee is appointed for each college by the dean in consultation with the approved faculty organization.

The policy states, in part: “The sabbatical leave committee will review the application, consult as deemed appropriate, and submit its recommendation to the dean. The dean shall consider the recommendations of the department or division head or the school or unit director and the college sabbatical leave committee.”

The college has sabbatical leave guidelines and criteria posted at http://ed.psu.edu/internal/sabbatical-leave online. As listed on the website, the following broad criteria are pertinent to the review and evaluation of sabbatical leave applications:

— To what extent has the candidate demonstrated previous scholarly productivity in the area of proposed activity, and is the proposal a natural extension of prior experience? If a change in scholarly direction is indicated, is a rationale presented?

— Is the plan for the academic leave detailed, comprehensive, and sound? Are the objectives specified, is the significance of the work described, is the methodology appropriate, and are the expected products listed?

— Is the candidate committed to the project and is he/she prepared to do what the plan proposes?

— To what extent will the academic leave contribute to the candidate, to his/her colleagues, and to undergraduate, graduate, public service, and research programs in the department and college?

— Can assurance be given that approval of the sabbatical leave will not jeopardize the quality and scope of the program and that the candidate's responsibilities can be maintained in his/her absence?

— If the candidate is to visit or coordinate work with another facility, is there evidence that the candidate has contacted those responsible for the facility and has been accepted by them?

— To what extent does the proposal have the support of the candidate's department head and/or faculty colleagues? 

In addition, Dean David H. Monk addressed this topic in a Connections column in 2013. That year, the college had an unusually large number of sabbatical proposals. Since that was the case again this year, there is merit in revisiting his thoughts from that column. Some excerpts follow:

“As I reflect upon the numerous sabbatical proposals I have reviewed over the years, I recall a number of cases (actually a great majority of the cases) where the question about future value was addressed directly and splendidly. In these cases, the proposer talks about a desire to develop a new skill or area of expertise and explains why this would be useful to his or her program. Strong proposals also include an explanation about why the release time is needed to be successful. Often it is necessary to make connections with people or institutions outside of Penn State to acquire the new knowledge and connections with other scholars, something that would be difficult to establish while continuing to be tied to teaching courses and service responsibilities.

“In these cases, the Faculty Review Committee recommends the proposal, and it sails through the remaining steps of the review process. In other cases, the proposer seems to lose sight of the fact that the normal day-to-day duties of a tenure line faculty member include things like conducting research, refining courses, and staying abreast of developments in the field. Thus, it rings hollow in the review process when a proposer talks about using a sabbatical to pursue a research project, improve a course, or catch up on his or her field. I realize there is a fine line to draw between keeping up with one’s field and developing a new interest or area of expertise. The key for me is seeing a clear explanation about why the knowledge being sought is important for the University and why a sabbatical is necessary for accomplishing the goal.

“Well-designed sabbatical leaves are mutually beneficial. They enhance the future value of a faculty member to the University, and they open doors and provide valuable rejuvenation. Sabbatical leaves are a precious resource, and I encourage those contemplating future sabbatical leaves to follow the guidelines closely and to begin planning early.”

The full column can be read here.

Last Updated January 20, 2016