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Processing My Own and Others’ Sabbaticals

September 6, 2016

Michael Bugeja, director,
Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication,
Iowa State University of Science and Technology


For 35 years I have worked in higher education in various professorial and administrative positions and, this week, am tackling a task that I have never performed before, processing my own and others’ sabbaticals.

I have administered sabbatical leaves before, of course. But doing mine simultaneously with others feels a bit unusual.

I have had one quarter off in all my time in academe. This is my 14th year as director of Iowa State’s Greenlee School, and typically in such situations, the ex-leader of a program steps down to allow the new director to make her or his mark.

By next week’s deadline, I will submit three sabbatical requests to my dean, including applications from two of my colleagues.

My application goes straight to the Dean’s office. In stepping down from the directorship, I plan to return to the classroom and teach media ethics and other journalism classes. I have to retool. I also have two books to update—the How-To News Writer(Iowa Newspaper Association) and Living Ethics Across Media Platforms (Oxford Univ. Press).

I deposit my How-To royalties into a media ethics scholarship that has a balance of about $50,000. When I retire, it will generate $1,000 scholarships.

For this and Living Ethics, I plan to interview reporters and editors and visit newsrooms. Doing that, I will come away with information on teaching. So my sabbatical is part publishing and part externship.

The process for my professor colleagues is the same as mine. They will fill out detailed forms about their plans and how their leaves will help them and enhance the Greenlee School.

I don’t make decisions on advancing their proposals to the dean. I have created a form that surveys my executive team on quality of the proposal, the likelihood of its success, and the benefits to the individual and our degree programs.

Members of my team will rank proposals and add comments. I will read those and add my voice, tallying up numerical scores to rank order the applications.

Not all applications go forward, but most do. And then the College and Provost Office weigh in and filter applications some more. But typically well-written and supported proposals are approved.

If this is the case with the three sabbatical applications (including my own), I will be sure that all of our classes are covered. Oh, and one more thing: I will be available throughout my leave to answer any questions the new director might have in transitioning to the leadership role.

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