Over 50 professors are eligible to go on leave for the 2017-18 academic year. Although not all faculty eligible for leave will necessarily take it, Bowdoin could face a year with significantly more visiting faculty as many tenure and tenure-track professors go on sabbatical. In the last five years, the number of faculty on leave has never exceeded 34. The jump in eligibility for leave is partially coincidental and partially due to faculty postponing their leave from previous years.

Faculty become eligible for leave for a variety of reasons. Junior faculty are granted leave after they are reappointed and become tenure track. Newly tenured faculty are also eligible for leave. 

Additionally, a 2008 Mellon Grant, which is now fully endowed, enabled the College to reduce the time between regular sabbaticals for tenured professors from every seven years to every six years. According to Associate Dean for Academic Affairs James Higginbotham, the College sought this grant in response to a demonstrated need to provide more opportunities for faculty to conduct research and participate in other intellectual development. 

“If you do straight math, [the Mellon grant] should only increase the number of faculty [eligible for leave] in any given year by a small amount,” said Higginbotham. “There was the combination of that effect—which would take us probably normally from the mid-30s up to the low 40s which is something that we can manage—[and] faculty members that had decided for various reasons to postpone. That created a configuration where for the year 2017-18 and even 2018-19 we have some clustering.”

Faculty can request postponement of their leave or take their leave earlier if they feel it would better align with their academic pursuits. For instance, 45 faculty were eligible for leave for 2016-17, but 14 opted to postpone, so 31 are currently on leave. The Office of Academic Affairs must approve all postponement requests. 

When faculty are approved for leave, the College pays them full salary for one semester, or half salary for a full year. Faculty can apply for other sources of funding, both internal or external.

Faculty leave does create a resource strain, as the College has to pay the faculty members on leave as well as their replacements. Interim Dean for Academic Affairs Jennifer Scanlon said that the Office of  the Dean of Academic Affairs may be faced with a situation where it is unable to support all the faculty who wish to take leave, although it hopes to avoid such a scenario.

“Faculty eligibility is one thing, and ideally, all faculty who are eligible would be able to go on leave,” she said. “But we’re facing record numbers of faculty being eligible for leave, so we have to figure out what that means.”

In addition to the strain that faculty leave puts on resources, leave also places a burden on the campus community that is harder to numerically define. 

“Even with the best visiting faculty members, they come in and put their courses on the books [and] students don’t know who they are, so the courses are sometimes under enrolled, and it takes any faculty member time to adjust to a new culture,” said Higginbotham. “The way courses are taught at Bowdoin and the way that we need to work with students are different from almost any institution that we compare ourselves to.”

Although the number may change due to faculty deciding to postpone their leave, at the time of publishing, 51 faculty members are eligible for leave next year. The deadline for faculty to apply for leave is October 1. 

Higginbotham said he could not reveal the breakdown of faculty eligible for leave by department, but several departments have the potential to lose more faculty than others. 

“There are departments that have maybe four members and three of them are eligible for leave,” he said. 

Going forward, Higginbotham said he hopes the amount of professors going on leave will stabilize at around 40 per year. He is expecting 44 or 45 faculty on leave for 2018-19, but he said that number could rise if faculty postpone due to this year’s abundance of eligibility. 

“The best thing we can do is try to spread things out a little bit, and the next time they come up hopefully we’re not dealing with the same type of bubble,” he said.