Faculty Broaden Teaching through Sabbaticals

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Florian Pohl, associate professor of religion

You may have heard someone say, “I need a sabbatical,” when they were feeling overworked and were dreaming of having time just to lie on the beach. But that’s not what a sabbatical is—at least not in higher education, where the practice originated in the nineteenth century. Typically, faculty members on sabbatical leave are granted a semester with salary, sometimes a year, away from the classroom to conduct research.

A sample of other recent Oxford faculty sabbaticals:

Susan Ashmore, associate professor of history, on sabbatical in 2013–2014 conducted archival research for her book about the federal case Wyatt v. Stickney (1972), which resulted in a ruling that mental patients have the civil right to receive treatment and not be warehoused.

Henry Bayerle, associate professor of classics, received the prestigious President’s Fellowship in the Humanities at Emory’s Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry for the 2014–2015 year. He is at work on a Latin edition and English translation of the Chronicon Novaliciense, an eleventh-century chronicle composed at the Piedmontese abbey of Novalesa.

Ken Carter 87OX 89C, professor of psychology, is on sabbatical during 2014–2015, working on a book about high-risk-seeking individuals.

Frank Maddox, associate professor of economics, spent fall semester 2014 in China, focusing on Chinese business culture and central banking as well as intensively studying Chinese language.

Effrosyni Seitaridou, associate professor of physics, is on sabbatical in spring 2015. She is conducting a literature search and further laboratory work on biofilms, her primary research focus, while also exploring the use of simulations in the teaching of introductory physics.

At Oxford, which gives greater emphasis to excellence in teaching rather than research activity in selecting its faculty, sabbaticals are slightly different. Ken Anderson 89G 91PhD, dean of academic affairs and chief academic officer, says, “Sabbatical leave has been offered to Oxford’s tenured faculty since the late 1980s, not simply as time off from teaching, but as an opportunity to give them time to do something that energizes their teaching. Many choose to conduct research, while others, freed from the demands of classroom and committee work, choose to pursue a new subject or skill that interests them and that enhances their approach to their own discipline.”

Florian Pohl, associate professor of religion, is on sabbatical for the 2014–2015 academic year. As the recipient of a US Fulbright Scholar grant, he is spending the year in Semarang, Indonesia, on the northern coast of Java, at the IAIN Walisongo, a state institute for Islamic studies. Pohl teaches comparative religion, Arabic, and introduction to Islam at Oxford.

He has a long association with Indonesia. His dissertation for a PhD from Temple University examined the ways in which Islam is incorporated into Indonesian public education, and in the decade since then, he has returned several times to study or teach.

“I am teaching in my field, comparative religion,” says Pohl. “I bring my years of experience and my knowledge of the intersection of religion and the public sector in Indonesia to the role, but I am learning as well. Not all the students at IAIN Walisongo study Islamic subjects. I am also interested in observing what role comparative religion plays in the education of the students who study other disciplines, such as medicine or the social sciences.”

Sabbaticals often bring new perspectives to faculty members’ teaching. Adds Pohl, “To experience actively the role my discipline plays in the educational mission of an Islamic university will broaden my perspective and allow me further to refine my teaching and scholarship at home. And I hope that the perspective I have to offer my Indonesian students and colleagues can do something similar for them.”

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