Profs prepare for sabbaticals

When senior Matt Flaten returned to campus after taking a year off from school, he needed to retake some of the classes he had stopped attending as a freshman in spring 1998.

“(A sabbatical) helps in research as well as quality of teaching.”
Ali Abootalebi
Political science
associate professor

But Flaten won’t be able to take one of those courses, Global Politics and Business, a 100-level political science class.

Associate professor Ali Abootalebi, who teaches the course, will be one of two political science faculty members going on sabbatical – paid leave from the university – next spring semester. Abootalebi also is Flaten’s academic adviser.

“I guess the lesson would be to take a class you need as soon as you can,” Flaten said. “Saying, ‘I can always take it next semester,’ does not always work out.”

Despite his personal dilemma, however, Flaten said the political science department has done a good job of keeping students informed regarding schedule changes due to faculty sabbaticals.

Abootalebi and fellow political science professor Obika Gray are among the 17 UW-Eau Claire faculty members from 11 departments who have been granted sabbaticals for one semester or the full 2003-04 academic year. Both will be gone during the spring 2004 semester.

Associate professor and political science department chair Rodd Freitag said the department will cope with the sabbaticals by offering extra seats in fall classes.

In addition, letting students know about the faculty sabbaticals well in advance will help them plan for the absences, Freitag said. Thus far, the change has not created any problems.

Freitag said his primary concern is for those students graduating in May or August 2004.

The political science department is not the only one that will have multiple faculty members on sabbatical next year. The math department also has two faculty members taking sabbaticals, and the English department will have three members on leave next year.

The number of approved faculty sabbaticals for 2003-04 is unusually high, said Christopher Lind, assistant vice chancellor for research.

Faculty members who take semester-long sabbaticals are paid their full salary, Lind said, whereas those on full-year sabbaticals are paid 65 percent of their normal salary.

In addition to offering additional class seats, the remaining 35 percent of a faculty member’s salary can be used to hire temporary replacement instructors, Lind said.

“(The sabbatical system) essentially pays for itself,” Lind said.

He acknowledged, however, that while the system often pays for itself, the current Wisconsin budget crisis has been the cause of some concern.

Due to course availability and financial considerations, two faculty sabbaticals will be postponed until the 2004-05 academic year, Lind said.

Although the academic effects of a faculty member’s absence vary amongst the departments, sabbaticals are important for faculty to expand their knowledge within their field, Lind said. It is intended for faculty renewal, he said.

Abootalebi plans to spend the first portion of his sabbatical doing research in the area and then will travel to his native country of Iran to continue his research firsthand.

His research will explore the prospects for democracy within a Muslim government in the age of globalization.

“(A sabbatical) helps in research as well as quality of teaching,” Abootalebi said.

“You have to stay up to date,” he said. “You continue to stay excited about your teaching and what you do.”