Monday, August 13, 2018

Something that Virginia Theological Seminary values is sabbatical leave for faculty. The rhythm here follows a 7:1 pattern, with faculty either teaching seven semesters with a sabbatical in the following semester, or teaching seven years with leave in the eighth year.

Why does VTS have sabbaticals? Doctoral programs usually take 5-7 years of full-time study to learn a field and write a dissertation. When a graduate takes on a teaching position, keeping on top of emerging questions and remaining responsible to new research often gets crowded out by course preparation, grading, committees, and advising. And deep and thoughtful writing is difficult to achieve in only short blocks of time. Sabbaticals allow our faculty to be properly equipped to engage our students who bring their new perspectives into the classroom, and gives them the time to produce the research that ensures they remain leaders in the church and in their fields.

How does the sabbatical process work? Eighteen months before the anticipated sabbatical, each faculty member applies to the Board of Trustees with a letter that both describes the projects to be worked on during the leave and highlights the benefits that the projects will have for VTS. Before the leave, faculty also often apply for additional funding from foundations such as Conant or Lily to cover travel and other increased research expenses. Upon return, faculty write a report of what all was accomplished during the time away from the regular routine of teaching and administrative responsibilities.

What do faculty do while they are on sabbatical? Ideally, sabbatical projects are deep enough to require a sustained focus rarely found within the usual demands of the academic semester. And they also build upon some prior explorations in the project, so that the time is focused and productive.

As you can imagine, the shape of each sabbatical varies considerably from professor to professor. This week the Dean’s Commentary will feature reports from several faculty members who were on sabbatical Spring 2018. As their sabbaticals come to an end in anticipation of Fall 2018, I’m grateful that they agreed to take the time to share aspects of their time away.

The Rev. Melody D. Knowles, Ph.D.
Vice President of Academic Affairs and Associate Professor of Old Testament
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