I may be naive here, but I’m finding most of my colleague’s (and some of my student’s) expectations about my behavior during my sabbatical a little strange. Well, let’s not call it strange; rather, it’s surprising to me in its vehemence and ubiquity.
Essentially, everyone I know who has any experience with the concept of a sabbatical, when running into me on campus for the first time since the end of the Fall semester, says something like “What are you doing here?!” or “You should be invisible!” Even a student said to me this morning, “I didn’t think you would be, like, in the building this semester.”
Now, I know a lot, probably even most, faculty consider sabbatical one of those sacred affordances of tenure and a position in higher ed, and this is the reason why I’m getting such quizzical looks/responses to my presence.
But what I find strange is just the complete uniformity of it all, like small talk about the weather at a cocktail party. I don’t think I have seen a single colleague in the past few weeks on campus who hasn’t made this kind of comment on seeing me on campus. And it is this uniformity of response that has made me realize just how deep those expectations about sabbatical — what it is for and what faculty feel it exists to provide both psychologically and spiritually — run and how unusual my proposal of a more service-oriented sabbatical must have seemed to the committee who approved it.
In light of that, I once again am quite thankful I have landed here and that, in spite of the strangeness of my proposal, I have been allowed to continue as planned. Still, I wonder about other faculty, both here and elsewhere, and the pressure that are likely to have felt, as I originally did before I received some good advice, to conform to this fairly singular idea of how to approach one’s sabbatical. It is in this light that I continue to become aware of the deeply conservative nature of higher education, not in terms of politics, but in terms of its approach to itself: people in higher ed, I’m learning, are just as interested in conserving all the various aspects of the institution that has served them well as are the people of any other institution. For some reason this never occurred to me when I was in school, on the flip side of the institutional divide, as it were. But I see this more and more in my time as a faculty member, even though, as I’ve said, I don’t find it to impact actual policy in the same way my friends at other institutions indicate.
But I’m starting to wonder if I’m in the middle of a fault-line tension, one in which the pressures from each tectonic plate are slowly building. How do we, or can we, prepare for something like that?