Illinois sabbatical application process

Note :: Since next week is a holiday, I’m posting twice this week. 

I would like to share the details of the Illinois sabbatical application process. I fully recognize that your institution may do this much differently. Feel free to share your experience in the comments or on Twitter #librariansabbatical. Also, if you’re interested in the details of my research agenda, be sure to read “Unturning all the stones.

The University of Illinois Statutes, at Article IX, Section 7, provide that a member of the faculty who has the tenure system title/rank of professor, associate professor, or assistant professor “. . . may be granted a sabbatical leave of absence with pay for the purpose of study, research, or other pursuit, the object of which is to increase the faculty member’s usefulness to the University.” (Section 7.a.)1 [From Communication #19]

Librarians at Illinois have to follow campus policy for sabbatical leaves in the same way that we follow campus policy for the tenure process. Learn more at Illinois Communication #19: Sabbatical Leaves of Absence.

You can read the University of Illinois’ “Guidelines for Sabbatical Leaves of Absence” and access the current sabbatical application form.

I shared my part of the sabbatical application in a previous post. There is more to my application – the review portion written by my colleagues and a recommendation from my dean. For privacy concerns, I’m not allowed to share the expanded application. In fact, I haven’t even seen it! Similar to our tenure process, some parts of the application aren’t shared with the candidate (for example, I don’t know who wrote nor did I see the external tenure recommendation letters).

There are several requirements of the sabbatical narrative: describe the potential significance of the proposed research; disclose and justify the sabbatical location; identify the potential usefulness to university duties; explain how leave will contribute to the library and better serve the State of Illinois or the nation. I didn’t need to include a CV or list of publications or a research statement.

A few details about sabbaticals: We aren’t allowed to work toward a graduate degree while on leave (although several of my colleagues are working towards a PhD during their full time work schedule). Sabbaticals do not need grant funding to be approved.It is also my responsibility to identify funds if I need any to complete my research ahead of time or I wouldn’t be reimbursed. Also, I must stay at the university for one year after I return from leave, otherwise I will be required to pay back the entire salary I was paid during my sabbatical. I am also not allowed to take on other employment.

While we have approximately 90 librarians at Illinois, each librarian applying for sabbatical is responsible for identifying colleagues to cover their daily job responsibilities while they are gone. I know of some libraries that are able to hire temporary librarians to cover sabbatical or other types of leave but that is not the case at Illinois. Since going on sabbatical is part of our culture, most colleagues will do their best to make time to cover for their colleagues so that the favor can be returned at some point. I didn’t have any trouble finding coverage but I did spread out my daily responsibilities among several people, some with larger jobs than others.

Once I drafted my application, it was forwarded to our Central Public Services division.* My tenured colleagues in the division were responsible for reviewing my narrative and providing advice on how to improve my research plan. Much of the advice was salient and easy to fix. One piece of the advice I received focused on how many interviews I should do as part of my proposed research project. In my mind I was thinking about extremely in-depth faculty mentor interactions covering expectations of their undergraduate researchers and uncovering student (un)preparedness for all things related to information literacy skills. It was suggested that I add a few more interviews to my research. At first I felt like that would be too many to accomplish during my six month time, but after some thought, I realized that I wasn’t expected to finish the entire project while on sabbatical but I am expected to do solid research. So I took their advice and increased my number of interviewees.

Once my division colleagues approved my narrative, they ranked all of the applications in the division (I cannot remember exactly how many there were at the time – three? four?). Ranking is important because the library cannot always afford to send everyone who applies for sabbatical during the same time period. The dean is responsible for choosing among all of the applications that are put forward by the divisions and the campus unit is not permitted to send more than 10% of the faculty on sabbatical at any one time. It should also be considered that sabbaticals may overlap but not everyone leaves and returns on the same day. I’m not aware of anyone being turned down by the library but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened for one reason or another.

After the division process is complete, my sabbatical application and the Central Public Services paperwork went to the dean. The dean has the final say of whether or not my application should “leave the library” and be forwarded to the Board of Trustees. All of our sabbatical leaves must by approved by the Board of Trustees upon recommendation of the President of the University. I’m not aware of any sabbatical applications being turned down by the dean or BoT but maybe that has happened? I wasn’t comfortable planning for my sabbatical until I read the minutes from the BoT meeting.

I earned one month of full paid leave for each year I worked as a tenure track librarian. My time as a visiting professor (2006—2009) did not count. After working for six years, I was eligible for either one year at half pay or one half year at full pay. I don’t know anyone who can live off half their salary and I’m no exception! If I wanted to, I could have worked for three more years in order to take 9 months of leave and many of our librarians do choose to do that.

[Note: there are a few examples of librarians being awarded a research leave, not a formal sabbatical process, while they are at the assistant rank. This is usually an informal process and granted to a librarian that has been working towards tenure and is in their final push towards tenure and has a large project to finish in a short amount of time. However, it doesn’t happen very often and my understanding is that there must be extenuating circumstances because it is possible to formally request two year-long rollbacks for personal reasons that extend the timeline towards tenure.]

Since I submitted my sabbatical application while my tenure case was under consideration, my paperwork was held at the campus level until that process was finalized instead of discussed at the usual March Board of Trustees meeting. I was informed of my approved leave by the Assistant University Librarian (AUL) for Research who is in charge of managing the overall library sabbatical application process. I also received a formal letter from the campus detailing my leave responsibilities as a tenured professor.

At the completion of my sabbatical, I am required to write a brief (2 pages) report to the dean detailing a description of my sabbatical activities, state where my sabbatical occurred, and the overall significance to me personally as well as to members of my field. As far as I know, this paperwork never leaves the library and the campus administration nor the BoT ever see it.

What does your sabbatical application process look like? Volunteer to write a guest post or write a comment below.

If I missed your question, be sure to ask in the comment section.

*- Central Public Services is one of eight divisions in our library. Our tenure and sabbatical processes are filtered through a review process of our tenured colleagues in those divisions.

Next time :: Taking a real vacation while on leave (no post next week!)