A sabbatical is not a vacation.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “sabbatical’ was derived from the Greek “sabbatikos,” which relates to the Sabbath day of rest.
Thomas Renna, professor of history, said that this definition isn’t accurate.
“The sabbatical is a relatively new concept in the history of education,” he said.
He added that he wouldn’t be surprised if most people assume that a sabbatical is, as the dictionary says, a time of rest.
“It used to be that all a professor did was write and research,” Renna said. “You were expected to publish as much work as you could in your specialized field.”
Renna said that the times have not necessarily changed in this regard.
Both nationally and domestically, professors are still expected to research and publish their work in contractual obligations.
As universities began focusing more on teaching and educating in the last century, the role of the professor became part teacher and part researcher.
“Your primary job is to teach, but you also have a contract to publish,” Renna said. “That is the purpose of the sabbatical.”
Renna has spent sabbaticals studying and researching in the libraries of the Vatican. He is working on a book that focuses on church and state relations in the fourteenth century.
According to Robert Drew, professor of communication, professors have to submit an application to the University and have a reason for their prospective project to obtain a sabbatical.
“The amount of teaching depends on whether the professor is on a full-time or half-time sabbatical,” Drew said. “The professor can either teach half-time for a year or take one semester off teaching.”
For his sabbatical project, Drew is researching the cultural history of audio tape recording with an emphasis on the compact cassette. He hopes to finish a book on the project.
“The cassette is often thought of as a ‘dead’ medium, but in some ways it is very much alive,” Drew said. “I want to argue that the culture of the cassette formed an important precedent for today’s digital culture.”
Renna said some professors choose to take a full-semester sabbatical for the logistics of travel.
When professors go on sabbatical, this does not mean that they are completely cut off from campus.
“I myself am serving on a number of committees and participating in departmental activities that require me to spend a good deal of time working on campus,” Drew said.
Peter Barry, professor of philosophy, is also on sabbatical. He said professors are supposed to maintain responsibilities on committees and other campus activities.
“There’s definitely an expectation that you don’t simply disappear,” Barry said. “It can be very challenging to work on a project while teaching full time. Sabbaticals provide us with the opportunity to tend to our other responsibilities as professors.”
For his sabbatical project, Barry has a book contract to write a philosophical narrative on evil and moral psychology. He hopes that it will be available by the end of the year.
“My book is a philosophical account of what evil people are like,” Barry said. “There’s an emotive force in our society that ‘evil’ has that a ‘bad guy’ doesn’t.”
This is Barry’s first time on sabbatical. He said that a professor is eligible to apply every seven years.
“Overall, I think it’s an advantage for us that SVSU is such a teaching-oriented university,” Barry said. “We get to teach and we have the opportunity to research.”