Change in sabbatical cycle cheats students

By James Stewart

Last month the faculty voted to cut its teaching load by shortening its sabbatical leave cycle from seven years to four.It’s hard to imagine a better deal for them or a worse deal for students.

Here’s how the new policy works: Every four years rather than every six, the faculty students rely on almost completely to sustain the curriculum, to supervise honors projects, to oversee internships and to advise students will vanish from campus for at least a semester and in some cases for a full year.

If they are replaced it will be with part-time, temporary faculty who suddenly arrive and just as rapidly depart. They are known as known as adjuncts. But then again, it’s also possible that faculty going on leave won’t be replaced at all.

How can such a policy possibly be defended as serving students or strengthening teaching and learning at Macalester?

Last week the New York Times featured a front page article exposing just how much the widespread hiring of temporary adjuncts is undermining the quality and stability of higher education. It also emphasized just how much money colleges and universities save by hiring low-cost adjuncts and how poorly treated many adjuncts are. Macalester wasn’t mentioned, but our new accelerated faculty leave policy fits the depressing pattern the article describes.

Macalester already employs more non-tenurable and adjunct faculty than other comparable liberal arts colleges to keep its curriculum going. My question is: How are financially hard pressed families and students burdened with substantial loans better served by employing even more adjuncts and releasing tenured faculty even more frequently than the College does already? Why ask the people we serve to pay more and more for substantially less?

The argument for more frequent sabbatical leaves is that it gives tenured faculty (even)more time to do research and to publish their scholarship. My questions are: When did it become obvious that scholarly pursuits are no longer what we’ve always believed them to be, significant enrichments to something much more basic, that is, teaching? Who has decided instead that scholarship must be financed as a privileged activity in its own right, apart from enriching teaching, that deserves a higher priority than being at hand to instruct and advise our students? Is this the statement we want to make about our fundamental values as educators?

If it is, then it truly becomes a stretch for me to identify positively with the faculty from which I’ve just now retired.

If we want to go to four year faculty sabbaticals and still put our students’ educations first, then let’s do what Williams and Amherst do to make such a policy possible. Let’s lower the student/faculty ratio significantly by hiring more tenureable faculty. But since our finances won’t permit this, let us please not short change our students’ educations with this second rate (but in many ways still very expensive) substitute.

I do hope that the Board’s Student Representative will bring this matter to the attention of the Trustees.

James B. Stewart is the James Wallace Professor of History, Emeritus. He can be reached at [email protected]