WPI's New Short Sabbatical Plan Solves Many Problems

Contact: WPI Media Relations, 508-831-5616

WORCESTER, Mass. - After years of teaching and research, college professors have earned the right to take a sabbatical leave. The goal is to leave behind the ivy-covered walls to explore and learn elsewhere. Unfortunately, busy professors often cannot spare the time away from campus.

One answer is a shorter sabbatical, such as the new option recently approved at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. The one-term, seven-week-long sabbatical is unique in higher education, according to WPI Provost John F. Carney III.

"Other schools will have trouble duplicating this because they don't have seven-week terms, as WPI does," he said.

The shorter stint will not replace WPI's existing sabbatical offerings. After six years of service, tenured and tenure track faculty are still able to apply for a full-year sabbatical at half salary or a half-year at full salary. Unfortunately, only 40 percent of faculty members take advantage of this opportunity to find renewal away from teaching obligations.

Obstacles include family considerations and ongoing academic commitments. Sometimes family commitments make it difficult to spend a year or six months away from home, leaving friends, school and jobs. Moreover, faculty members often oversee graduate students, who cannot complete research projects and degrees in their advisor's long-term absence.

That's a shame, Carney noted, since a sabbatical can be deeply enriching for both the professor and the university.

"I have had sabbatical leaves in Great Britain at Oxford and Cambridge," he said. "Both of these sabbaticals have been life-changing experiences. I returned to my university with renewed enthusiasm and a great number of new ideas."

Sabbaticals do cost an institution financially. Salaries continue to be paid to the absentee faculty member, while the university must also underwrite sabbatical substitutes.

"We think it's well worth it," Carney said. "I feel that the University will benefit greatly from these experiences and easily justify the expense."

The new option is available during the upcoming academic year to tenured or tenure-track professors of three years' service. The short sabbatical lasts one seven-week term at full salary. After three years, professors can reapply for another short sabbatical, or a traditional sabbatical after six years. In both cases, professors must submit a detailed plan for what they intend to accomplish and how it will benefit them and the University.

With the new option, Carney estimates more than half of WPI professors will go on sabbatical. Among other advantages, it will allow professors the option of pursuing research opportunities in industry as well as at other universities. Professors can, for example, take advantage of a new WPI project center in California's Silicon Valley. It opens in January, which is also the first opportunity to take a short sabbatical.

"I can see our professors getting involved with high-tech companies as consultants and in sponsored research," Carney said. "This in turn will open doors for our undergraduate and graduate students to interact with these industries."