I could see that

Which science-fiction author am I?

I am:
Frank Herbert
His style is often stilted, but he created what some consider the greatest SF novel of all time.

Which science fiction writer are you?


Sabbatical FAQ

Q: What's a sabbatical?

A: a sabbatical is a time of leave, within which a person is supposed to rest and recuperate. It is an extended respite from one's regular labors.

Q: Not working? Where did a crazy idea like this come from? It sounds vaguely socialist.

A: it's Biblical. First and foremost in the Hebrew Bible (a.k.a. the Christian Old Testament); check out Exodus 23:10-11 and Deuteronomy 15:1-6 for good blunt statements. It's related to the idea of a "jubilee," a kind of omnibus divine forgiveness and celebration during which everyday human considerations (e.g., one's daily labors) are suspended in favor of a re-membering (or re-collection) of oneself as a created being -- something that gets lost in the travails of everyday living.

Q: so this is a religious thing?

A: yes, but like so many other "religious things" it's become part of the fabric of the everyday secular world (c.f. Max Weber's famous thesis on the "Protestant ethic" and how it was rationalized into the fabric of contemporary capitalist free-market economies). Indeed, in common parlance "sabbatical" now seems to mean any kind of prolonged hiatus, without any kind of religious connotation at all. (Further illustration of Weber's thesis about rationalization, but that's a different post all together.)

Q: how can I get myself one of these sabbatical things?

A: several pathways. You could become a famous artist and then simply declare that you are taking a sabbatical, like Gary Larson and Bobby McFerrin did. You could be employed by a firm or business that regards such leave-time to be a productive investment in the long-term health and productivity of their workers. Or you could enter one of the two professions where the notion of sabbatical is quite well-established: the pastorate and academia.

Q: I get the link between sabbaticals and being a pastor, because of that whole religious thing . . .

A: You'd be surprised how many people don't get that. Being a pastor is a really draining vocation, because you're tending your flock (to coin a phrase) pretty much non-stop when you're actively serving a church. It's hard to remain energized and focused amidst the daily grind of keeping the church running -- even amidst the daily grind of preaching sermons and helping people develop their spiritual vocations. So a sabbatical, a time of "letting the fields lie fallow," is an indispensable part of being an effective pastor; one needs that time to recharge, refresh, revitalize.

Q: . . . but as I was saying before you interrupted me,

A: sorry.

Q: why do professors get sabbaticals? Why do they need them?

A: let me split that up. Why professors get sabbaticals is because universities grew out of monasteries, and there are all kinds of ways that they continue to bear the traces of that parentage. Universities are very medieval places, with arcane hierarchies and hereditary privileges that are usually just taken for granted (like "tenure" and "academic freedom"). Okay, that's oversimplified; some places are in fact questioning tenure, and academic freedom is pretty much continuously under assault by political activists on both sides of the spectrum. [I am not going to give them the satisfaction of linking to any of them; google around a bit if you're curious.] But the overall point stands: universities are in a lot of ways deliberately archaic. Sabbatical leave is just another one of those deliberately archaic things.

As for why professors need sabbaticals, let me start off by saying that they do not need sabbaticals for the reasons that they usually have to give to administrators in order to get one. Sabbatical leave is not supposed to be about finishing a project or starting a new project; that's called "work," and sabbaticals are supposed to be a hiatus from work. Nor is sabbatical leave a reward for getting tenure, although the six-year timetable of most tenure processes means that usually someone's first semester or year of sabbatical leave happens in year seven of their employment, just like in the initial Biblical injunction about how often sabbaticals are supposed to occur. And while sabbatical leave does in fact contribute to having a more productive faculty workforce, that's not why I think that professors need sabbaticals either. [There are probably administrators and boards of trustees who would disagree with me about all of these points; so be it.]

Put bluntly: I believe that professors need sabbaticals for the same reasons that pastors need sabbaticals. It is so easy to lose your vocation amidst the daily grind of "being a professor": teaching classes, grading students, etc. The work piles up, and like that of a pastor is really never stops, especially in the age of e-mail and IM: this is a more than full-time job. As it should be, because I am not at all sure how one would do it any other way without (to be blunt once again) betraying the academic vocation. If one is going to do this right, it takes time and effort and work, and that's why professors need sabbaticals: because they need to recharge, refresh, revitalize.

Q: so you're doing nothing on your sabbatical?

A: not exactly "nothing." I am reading some things I wouldn't usually get a chance to read if I were teaching, things that demand a bit more of an exclusive focus of attention. (Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, at the moment; Hegel and Vico and Wittgenstein and Durkheim and Dewey and James and Simmel a bit later in the semester.) I am also working on a couple of papers I didn't have a chance to write during the past couple of years; this is actually not what I am supposed to be doing with my sabbatical, I don't think, but under modern conditions one has to demonstrate that one used one's time "productively" so there you go. And I'm actually quite excited about these papers: one is the conclusion I wanted to write to my book but didn't have the time of the space, and the other is a paper on causality that I have been toying with for about a year now, and am finally making some headway on. Also, the reading I'm doing at the moment is leading up to a paper on pragmatism on both sides of the Atlantic that I am going to be presenting at a conference in September, so in that way it's "productive" too. [Damn Protestant ethic -- can't shake that thing!] I've also been doing some things I have wanted to do for a while: reading and commenting on some colleagues' papers; teaching myself to use Final Cut Express, thinking about multi-sensory assignments for courses, and so on.

Q: sounds like you're wasting a lot of time instead of spending it thriftily.

A: maybe. But isn't that the point of a sabbatical?

Q: hmm.

A: that's also why I haven't been blogging much. Eventually I'll feel like talking again and I'll post more, and occasionally something might surface that is just begging to be posted about, like an article in the Chronicle called "Blog Overload" that a colleague sent me today. But otherwise, consider me on hiatus for a few months.

Q: you mean hiatus as in a sabbatical?

A: precisely.