Every few years, professors at the University of South Dakota take sabbatical leaves, where they are paid full or half salary by the university to research, travel or study.
This semester, six USD professors are on sabbatical leave, with some doing their research near Vermillion and others traveling overseas to conduct their work in a specialized environment.
USD Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Chuck Staben said sabbaticals are traditionally offered at universities every seventh year, as referenced in the name “sabbatical,” a word which originates from “sabbath,” meaning “the seventh.”
USD is in keeping with this tradition; according to Staben, faculty members can be granted sabbatical leave after six or more consecutive years of full-time employment.
“Faculty members may be granted improvement or career-redirection leave after three consecutive years,” Staben said. “Approval is contingent among a number of things. Sabbatical leave for nine months is for no more than two semesters at half-salary or not more than one semester full-salary.”
Staben said there is a common misconception that sabbatical leaves are simply paid vacation for faculty members. He said in order for a professor’s request for sabbatical to be honored, they must prove they can use their leave to contribute to the university.
“It’s contingent upon a faculty member presenting plans for study, research or other experiences that are designed to improve the quality of service of the faculty member to the institution,” he said. “So in essence, the faculty member’s sabbatical leave must have a benefit to the institution by improving that faculty member’s abilities, in some sense.”
Staben said most sabbatical work centers on research.
“The most common sabbatical leaves have to do with conducting a research project, proving that faculty members do research,” he said. “Sometimes we see ones that are based more on teaching, like learning a new means of teaching. Much more occasionally, you see something where the faculty member is doing something more related to service.”
The classes vacated by professors on sabbatical leave are filled by the university in various ways. In some instances, temporary faculty are hired. Such an example can be found in Dorothea Merrill, a former high school teacher who has taken over Istvan Gombocz’s German language courses while he is on sabbatical.
“I’m teaching German 102 and 202,” Merrill said. “I retired in 2007, so I’m just here for the duration of Professor Gombocz’s sabbatical as an adjunct professor.”
Other times, current USD professors take on an extra class or two while their colleagues are on sabbatical. Timothy Schorn, head of the International Studies department, has been teaching several of Eric Jepsen’s political science courses while Jepsen does research at a university in India.
“I taught Jepsen’s section of World Politics in the fall and then I’m teaching his section of Governments of the World this spring semester,” Schorn said. “We wanted to make sure these classes were still offered, because they’re necessary for the International Studies major and the Political Science major, and if we didn’t offer them the sections would have been too big. Since I taught them both, it was not too difficult, but it certainly has offered some work to my workload.”
Students in the vacated classes, such as Mark White, are noticing a change in the curriculum now that they have been assigned new professors. White is taking German 202 with Professor Merrill this semester, which he says is “vastly different” than taking German courses with Professor Gombocz.
“I had Professor Gombocz for my first three semesters,” White said. “His teaching methods and how he interacts with the students in relation to our period of study is different. And he always depended on technology, which is an absence from Professor Merrill’s classroom.”
White said much of the change comes from knowing what to expect from your professor.
“It has been difficult deciphering what expectations are wanted from Merrill,” White said. “Since I had Gombocz for so long, one kind of develops a ‘niche’ to what he expects from someone.”
Mitchell Wagner, who is taking German 102, said he had expected the change to be difficult, but that it has not been particularly challenging.
“The transition was easy because it was just like any other time switching classes at semester,” he said. “You usually cannot expect to have the same professor. At first I thought it was going to be hard, especially after getting to know Dr. Gombocz so well. A language learning class is often very personal because you spend most class days talking to the professor. Professor Merrill did not know exactly how much German we spoke or how far along we were. After all that was figured out, however, things started moving along much faster.”
Vonda Cotton, a non-traditional also taking German 102, notices a difference between Gombocz and Merrill.
“It’s very different having Professor Merrill,” Cotton said. “We speak the language out loud a lot more with Professor Merrill, and she reads the vocabulary to us so that we can get the correct pronunciation. She also utilizes the chalkboard by writing things so that it’s easier for us to understand.”
Despite this, Cotton said much of the material is the same.
“The learning materials are the same,” she said. “I am still learning German, and I’m still using the same textbook. Had Professor Gombocz not taken sabbatical, I would still have learned the same material.”