Campus / News / November 18, 2010

Taking a break to learn

Knox College students who lack awareness about what constitutes a Knox professor’s sabbatical can easily attach a negative connotation to it. A common misconception about sabbaticals is that this form of leave solely covers the purpose of providing professors with personal career benefits. However, Dean of the College Larry Breitborde, who has been dean for 16 years and has had multiple sabbaticals throughout his career, clarified, “Sabbatical is not a term off. It’s a term of no teaching.”

In defense of the importance of sabbaticals, Breitborde said, “The Knox College faculty is expected to bring together teachers, active scholars and campus service members. The scholarship part is important. People are actively engaged in their disciplines; that makes them better teachers.” When teachers are on sabbatical, they are introduced to new ways of informing students in their area of expertise.

According to the Knox policy on sabbatical leave, “Faculty members on tenure are encouraged to request sabbatical leaves to further their academic and professional proficiency.” Professors who do not have tenure may still be eligible for junior leave, which functions similarly to a sabbatical.

Professor of Political Science Duane Oldfield spoke to the countless ways in which the classroom learning experience is immediately enhanced when teachers return from sabbatical.

“Projects often involve research and developing new courses,” he said. “Professor of Political Science Karen Kampwirth, for example, used part of her sabbatical to develop a new course on Middle Eastern politics.”

While sabbaticals provide professors with a new venue in which to critically examine their area of interest, many projects that arise from sabbaticals greatly contribute to the diversity of the Knox College curriculum.

A wide range of project possibilities has been accepted in the past.

“My second sabbatical…I returned to a field site in West Africa,” said Breitborde. “I later taught classes at Knox directly related to my field.”

Oldfield, who plans to go on sabbatical this winter and spring term, said, “Sabbaticals can be tied to an initiative on community-based research. Working with the community in groups to come up with research projects can allow professors and students to serve community issues.”

In the sciences, professors may use sabbaticals for field research or to extend previous experimentation. Regardless of the project type, the sabbatical educates teachers in a way that benefits students as well.

A common worry voiced by students is that their academic pursuits will suffer while professors are on sabbatical. However, according to Breitborde, “I see where a curriculum gap exists and I can hire visiting faculty to make up for the loss.”

Knox professors and administrators agree that a need for sabbaticals exists. On the necessity of sabbaticals, Oldfield said, “I really like Knox because it provides a good balance between research and teaching. There is a strong focus on student research here. We need professors to be active researchers themselves.”

Not only do sabbaticals allow professors and their students to gain from knowledge acquired from a different environment, but they also help professors cultivate a passion in their area of study that can ultimately be passed down to their students.

Elise Hyser

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