As we see from the Detroit newspaper article, the cost of sabbaticals is a steep one. But the e-mails in John’s post defend the practice.
There is a simple way to judge the issue and answer the defenders: results. Professors returning from sabbatical are required to submit reports on their work. All we need to do is collect information on reports from, say, five years ago, then see if they have led to significant scholarly fruit in subsequent years.
In my world of the humanities, there are lots of cases of professors regarding the sabbatical as a time to unwind, even though many of them teach a regular schedule of two 14-week semesters per year. What is remarkable about this is how much grumbling you hear from the tenured faculty about working conditions. They feel underpaid and overworked, and they know that they are an intellectual elite, but they get little respect in the public sphere. It’s a longstanding lament, which Irving Kristol described well 40 years ago in the essay “American Intellectuals and Foreign Policy”:
Now, this new intellectual class, though to outsiders appearing to be not at all badly off, is full of grievance and resentment. It feels discriminated against–opinion polls reveal that professors, especially in the social sciences and humanities, invariably tend drastically to underestimated the esteem in which public opinion (and, more particularly, the opinion of the business community) holds them. It feels underpaid; you’ll not find any credence on the campus for the proposition (demonstrably true) that the salaries of professors do not compare unfavorably with the salaries of bank executives. It feels put upon in all sorts of other familiar ways. They symptoms are only too typical: Here is a new class that is