Sabbaticals, which were first introduced at Harvard in 1880, have become a form of paid leave offered to faculty by nearly all United States universities, more than 80 percent of four-year colleges, and 60 percent of two-year colleges. Sabbaticals, derived from the Hebrew Shenath shabbathon, or year of rest, commonly are defined as paid leaves of absence for purposes of personal and/or professional development. These leaves may be granted for varying periods of time, usually with full or partial compensation and continued benefits. Historically, the primary purpose of the sabbatical has been to increase scholarly productivity. In addition, sabbaticals serve as a reward for tenured faculty who have given good service to the university and as an incentive to energize and improve faculty performance. Sabbaticals are considered to be an important part of academic life because faculty are expected to continue to develop as scholars, researchers, and professionals throughout their careers. In recent years, the sabbatical concept has been broadened to include opportunities for personal renewal as well as professional development, with the goal of enhancing the value of the faculty member to the institution.
A unique feature of sabbaticals is that they typically are characterized by a complete disengagement from regular work responsibilities. Release time relieves faculty of specific day-to-day responsibilities so that they can concentrate their time and energies in chosen scholarship, teaching, or service activities. Eligibility requirements for sabbatical leaves typically require formal application and approval for the sabbatical, at least one year of service at the institution following the sabbatical, and a report on sabbatical accomplishments. In addition to individual faculty benefits, sabbaticals also have been reported to benefit institutions through improved faculty morale, increased scholarly output, and improved teaching.
During the past few years, organizations outside of academia, such as public schools, businesses, and health care, have recognized the potential merit of sabbaticals for their employees. Sample titles of articles published in business publications clearly indicate interest in nonacademic sabbaticals (e.g., “Time for a Sabbatical,” “Sabbaticals Gain Popularity,” “Why Sabbaticals Make Sense”). Articles on sabbaticals also have appeared in such diverse publications as the Journal of Accountancy, British Medical Journal, Family Practice Management, Journal of Academic Librarianship, Bioscience, and the Journal of Education for Business.
Most faculty report using their sabbaticals for research (49 percent) or writing (21 percent). Other reported benefits of sabbaticals include burnout prevention; increased job satisfaction; personal and professional growth; time to develop new projects, areas of interest, or skills without normal interruptions and responsibilities; new perspectives and attitudes; travel and networking; improved mental and physical health; and increased energy and enthusiasm for career. Clearly, these kinds of reported benefits may accrue to employees in other careers where sabbatical-type opportunities are offered.
Even within academic settings, there is some evidence that the sabbatical experience may differ for faculty from different disciplines. In one study, counselor educators reported placing a higher priority on personal and social development than non-counseling faculty and perceived themselves as more motivated, more enthusiastic, and better institutional citizens post-sabbatical. Critics of sabbaticals have questioned the effectiveness of release time, citing a lack of substantial evidence to support their effectiveness. Thus a continued challenge is to document sabbatical accomplishments in ways that are meaningful to and valued by administrators and other supervisors.
- Benshoff, J. M. and Spruill, D. A. 2002. “Sabbaticals for Counselor Educators: Purposes, Benefits, and Outcomes.” Counselor Education and Supervision 42:131-144.
- Miller, M. T. and Kang, B. 1997. “A Case Study of Post-sabbatical Assessment Measures.” Journal of Staff, Program, and Organizational Development 15:1997-1998.
- Zahorski, K. J. 1994. The Sabbatical Mentor: A Practical Guide to Successful Sabbaticals. Bolton, MA: Anker.