Sabbaticals give UWRF faculty opportunity for research, recharging

Posted February 12, 2019

Every year, about five faculty members on average are granted a sabbatical leave at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. A sabbatical is paid time away from campus for research or study and may last a semester or a full academic year.

Sabbaticals are crucially important to not only faculty at universities but to their students and colleagues as well. According to the University of Wisconsin System’s guidelines, “sabbatical leave shall be granted for the purpose of enhancing teaching, course and curriculum development or conducting research or any other scholarly activities related to instructional programs within the field of expertise of the faculty member taking such leave.” Sabbaticals are only available to tenured faculty.

“Hopefully, a faculty member is retooling, updating their skills, learning new information,” said Wes Chapin, UWRF’s associate vice chancellor of academic affairs and graduate studies. “They’re bringing that back to the classroom and students are benefitting. The research agenda and maybe grant writing might benefit.”

This academic year, five UWRF professors earned sabbatical leave: Thomas Barnett, professor of music; Erick Hofacker, professor of mathematics; Sylvia Kehoe, professor of animal and food science; Jong Won Park, professor of music; and Rellen Hardtke, professor of physics.

Sabbaticals can last one or two academic semesters long. Many faculty members who go on sabbatical only do so for a semester, mainly because of the pay cut. A professor will make 100 percent of their salary for a semester-long sabbatical, whereas during a two-semester sabbatical, a professor may make only 65 percent of their salary.

Sabbatical leaves are planned a year in advance, so the recipients for the 2019-2020 school year have already been chosen. They include Neil Kraus, professor of political science; Dan Marchand, professor of chemistry and biotechnology; Doug Margolis, assistant professor of English; Andris Straumanis, associate professor of journalism; and Kathy Tomlinson, professor of mathematics.

Psychology Professor Cyndi Kernahan is not only a sabbatical recipient but serves on the Faculty and Academic Staff Development Program Board (FASDB) that decides who gets the leave. She’s also the assistant dean for teaching and learning in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Many different aspects go into deciding who gets a sabbatical leave, Kernahan said. They include how many years the professor has been on campus, their teaching history, and their service to the community and university.

Many professors apply for a sabbatical so they are able to work on projects that they may not have time to work on while teaching, Kernahan said. During her sabbatical, Kernahan worked on a book.

While preparing her application, she said, “I knew in previous experiences that I needed to be pretty close to having a (book) contract to get a sabbatical, because one of the things we look at is how sort of realistic is your project?”

Kernahan spent almost three years preparing for her sabbatical, from writing to applying and to waiting to see if she got it. Kernahan was awarded a sabbatical in fall of 2017. Her book, which she expects to be published in December, is about teaching about race and how to do it effectively.

Like Kernahan, many professors are given the opportunity to work on something close to their interests, and many have even taken their projects abroad.

For example, Kehoe, the animal and food science professor, traveled to Poland this past fall semester. Park, a music professor, is currently in South Korea researching and understanding “higher quality music-making through working with professional choirs in South Korea.” He said he plans to “continue to build global connections with universities in South Korea for our exchange program.”