Chad Jenkins, an associate professor of computer science at Brown University, waited a few extra years to take his first sabbatical, but made sure when he did take time off, he made it count.
After nine years at Brown, Jenkins combined the six months of paid leave due tenure-track professors after six years of teaching with another half year of work paid for by a Silicon Valley robotics company.
Free to spend an entire year in California away from students, Jenkins researched public access to robotics through the Internet – what he describes as the “robot app store.” “It was really an opportunity to experience Silicon Valley, its strengths and disadvantages, and bring that experience back to Brown,” said Jenkins, now back teaching in Providence, “to build Providence into a stronger hub of innovation and … the next direction we need to go into.”
Outside of academia, taking six months or a year away from work to study, conduct research or finish a career-building, personal project is virtually unheard of. But at American colleges and universities, the sabbatical is an integral part of achieving most institutions’ twin missions of teaching and research.
And as Jenkins attests, most sabbaticals are far from faculty vacations.
While working in California, he kept in touch with students and colleagues in Providence using a Beam “remote-presence machine,” a computer monitor on wheels allowing him to teleconference, roam the halls and even conduct job interviews.
As elite American research universities have expanded over the last few decades and competition for star faculty has intensified, the sabbatical has become one more tool schools can use in their recruitment pitch.
In Rhode Island, most schools have maintained fairly traditional sabbatical policies: six months away from the classroom for tenure-track professors after their sixth year on the job.
But in the Ivy League, sabbaticals go beyond the industry standard, and Brown in recent years has been enhancing its sabbatical policy to stay competitive.
“Our sabbatical policy is sort of in line with our peer group, the Ivy-plus group that also includes schools like the University of Chicago, Stanford and Duke,” said Kevin McLoughlin, Brown’s dean of faculty. “But it is maybe a little less generous than some, the wealthiest ones with the largest endowments.”