FGS has a great sabbatical program for faculty, comparable to a lot of colleges -- a whole year off at half pay, or Jan. through June off at full pay. Only two teachers get a sabbatical each year, and it's competitive but with a selection process that seems to be based on seniority more than anything else. It often takes two or three submissions before one is finally granted a sabbatical, but that's mostly about the program's being limited to only two teachers a year.
All of which is to say that I could probably get a sabbatical in a year or two, if only I knew what I wanted to accomplish during such a sabbatical. I actually wrote up a full application this fall and then didn't submit it because it became clear to me that I would HATE to spend a half-year working on the article that I had said I would write. I think I would wake up each morning feeling totally bummed that I had to work on it, which is not how the sabbatical is supposed to feel at all. I'm still so trapped in an academia way of thinking that my application was all about what I would *produce*, but that isn't necessary here. I mean, some people do produce things, and other people do straightforward things like coursework, finishing up master's degrees, etc., but other people apply based on the experiences that they'd like to have or the new areas that they'd like to explore. Department Chair's application said that she wanted to explore screen-writing (something she's dabbled in) and to read all six volumes of the Norton Anthology of World Literature; other colleagues have used the time to travel, to work in their artistic fields, to learn new technologies, to do political activism, and in one case to start working on a documentary film. The sabbatical plans have to be in some way tangential to one's teaching at FGS, but the connection can be somewhat tenuous. Other than those folks who are just trying to finish degrees, the program really seems to be about following one's passions.
Which brings me face-to-face with my current passion-less-ness.
It frightens me a little that I actually don't have any ideas for what I'd like to do on a sabbatical, that my mind is so worn into the same old ruts that all I could think of was writing an academic article ... one that, quite frankly, I'm only half-heartedly interested in. I can think of things that might be useful, but that's not really the same thing at all!
At least I had the self-knowledge not to submit that proposal and to recognize that I need to do some self-exploration, some trying out of ideas, before I ask for time off.
But all of that is a subject for future thinking and blog-posting. No, what I wanted to mention here and now is that my department chair was granted a full-year sabbatical for next year.
I'm glad for her -- she'd really wanted one for this year but been denied and had been very cast down about it -- but even more, I'm curious about what effects this will have on the department. As long-time readers know, she and I have had a very rocky relationship over the years, but things have really settled down in the last couple of years, and in some ways life would be easier in the department if we all continued rolling along as usual instead of having a new person come in for one year. But maybe it will do us all good to have things shaken up a little.
The awkward thing is that several colleagues, within the department and in other departments, have said something to me about how of course I'll be the acting chair for next year. And, honestly, I really am the natural choice; my one sometimes difficult colleague probably won't want the job (in fact, the reason we have our current chair is because she was hired after he refused to step into the chair role a few years ago), and the other two full-time teachers in the department are pretty young (29 and 30) and are only in their second year at FGS, and all the rest of the teachers are part-time. So it's not a crazy assumption on my colleagues' part that I'll be asked to step into the role, but of course I can't go around making that assumption myself.
And the reality is that I'm not sure I want it anyway. Part of the way that I made my peace with the Department Chair is that I disengaged from the department in some ways -- accepted the fact that she wasn't going to get anything done, understood that our mutual life would be a series of agenda-less meetings and dropped ideas and plans that never went anywhere. I spent my first three years struggling against this, and then I decided it was easier all around to just stop caring and to focus my attention on my own classes, which were within my control. And that's actually worked out quite nicely, especially since the horrible Dead Poets Society teacher went off to another school and all the current teachers are self-motivated and hard-working and thoughtful, so everything's been going along quite nicely without my having to put an oar in at all. Sure, there are departmental matters that I'd liked to see changed, but I'm not sure I would have the authority to change them in a one-year acting position anyway. And taking on the role would involve changing my attitude back to one in which I think a lot about the department as a whole, and then when the current Chair comes back, would I just be frustrated all over again?
Or would she come back and I would remain chair? I think that's not her plan at all, but it might be the administration's thought. It's been clear for years that they don't think she's good at her job -- indeed, this seems to be the universal judgment, perhaps with her as the one exception and perhaps not -- but FGS is fairly conflict-avoidant, and so everyone's just been hoping that something will change. Maybe her sabbatical is that change?
But of course I couldn't count on that, so I'd have to keep an eye on what would happen to my job duties the year after. At FGS, most faculty teach four courses and have a fifth-period equivalent (with a few exceptions of folks who teach five courses). In addition to my four courses, I run our writing center and I co-advise a student magazine, which together count for a fifth-period equivalent. Being a chair is a fifth-period equivalent, so chairs don't usually have any other roles in addition to their courses. But I wouldn't want to give up my current roles for one year to be acting chair, because then someone else would take them over for the year, and it's not guaranteed that I would actually get them back! So would it be possible to keep ALL of those roles and only teach three courses and have all of that count for full-time? Would FGS be that flexible? Hard to know.
Anyway, of course I can't talk about any of this publicly because my standard response when people mention my being acting chair is "Oh, heavens, I have no idea what the administration will choose to do under these circumstances. I guess we'll all find out in spring." And, indeed, probably nothing will happen at all until spring, because we don't sign our contracts for next year until March. So there are no decisions to be made and really no point in thinking about any of this until then. (Except of course that I AM thinking about it.)
In the meantime, Department Chair is in a better mood than I've ever known her; she's got that pre-sabbatical glow, which is a lovely thing to see.
And I'd like to have that glow myself some day, so I'm keeping at the back of my mind the question "What would you do if you had basically nine months in which you could do anything you like and didn't have to produce anything that you didn't want to?" It's a challenging question, actually, one that I don't yet have an answer for but would like to.