A big part of the joy and obligation of life as a tenured professor is research and writing, ideally supported by one’s home institution with the marvelous tradition of sabbatical. The idea goes back to ancient days; famously, the Bible directs fields to be left unsown every seven years. The tradition for university folk started back in the late nineteenth century and persists, although on somewhat wobbly legs these days.
While it’s easy to see why sabbatical leave is such an easy target by people who think professors already have it pretty easy–we only work a few hours a day! we get whole summers and a month at Christmas off!–it’s a tradition that deserves protection, and that ought to be valued, no matter your particular stance. It’s true that professors do not work as many structured, card-punching hours as most employees. There is a lot of freedom in this job, but that is freedom to figure out how to manage the loads of work that comes with the job and that has to get done somehow, day after day, week after week. (If you’re interested in just how many hours that is, please see this article.) On top of those daily, institutionally-focused tasks, we all have a second job, which is keeping up with our fields through tons of reading, ideally research, writing, publishing, that might squeeze in to a few hours here and there during the academic year, haunt the corners of our holiday parties, and command our attention during those three “free” months in the middle of the year. Summer off? I haven’t had a tan in 20 years.
So don’t think this is a cushy gig. It’s important, and meaningful, sometimes opens doors to very cool and spiffy opportunities, and may in some places even carry a little prestige; but it’s not cushy. Sabbaticals–good sabbaticals–are productive, characterized by focus and hard work that results in contributions to the great intellectual firmament by way of significant scholarly work: insights for discrete fields of study and hopefully applications for the classroom, too. For those who think that’s just ivory tower nonsense, consider the relationship between the health of this country and that of American universities through the twentieth century. Precious few geniuses emerge from garages; universities train the next generations of innovators. You can expect more from them if they’re taught and nurtured by professors who are given a little more room to breathe, and space to think.
That space is called sabbatical. I don’t know how many of these opportunities I’ll have in my career, and I want to make it count. That’s really what this blog is about: it’s an exercise in intentionality; a self-prompted encouragement to attack these fourteen months with gusto. On the other side it will be a chronicle of this year that ought to be a period of exceptional professional (and maybe personal) development. Maybe it’s a book of accounts, recording how I spent, or invested, this gift of time, recorded in short postcard-like blurts. Like postcards, these posts will be brief; like the content of most postcards, they may dwell from time to time on pretty buildings and food. Unlike postcards, they will not depend on any national postal service to mosey them to their destination. Also unlike postcards, they are written to an unknown audience. If you’ve made it this far, I’d love for you to introduce yourself. Hi.