Sabbatical: A Research Experience for the College Professor

John Abbatangelo

One of the most beneficial and exciting experiences for college professors is that they are able to pursue their own research and studies for their respective disciplines. They may pursue these studies outside of the classroom and common work schedule, too. The fascinating opportunity that awaits such professors is known as sabbatical.

Sabbatical is time spent away from teaching, where a professor candidate applies and, if granted, can go on a paid leave to research, study, and create some interesting work that relates to their field in one way or another.

There are two main criteria a professor at Manhattan College must possess to be considered for sabbatical leave. Firstly, the candidate must have tenure, and secondly they must have been employed at Manhattan College for at least seven full years. According to the Manhattan College Faculty Handbook, sabbatical leave’s purpose is “to provide the faculty members with an opportunity to devote themselves more intensively to faculty development and thereby enrich their teaching at Manhattan College.”

The candidate applies via a proposal submission. The proposal is overlooked in the fall semester by a committee, known as the Committee of Sabbatical Leave, and the “applicant…should be prepared, if necessary to appear before the [Committee] to explain or clarify the precise nature of the proposals or any parts thereof,” according to the handbook.

The process is rigorous, since a professor applying must have a concrete plan to better improve both themselves and their teaching ability. What is important is that a professor has a goal before proposing sabbatical.

Dr. Ashley Cross, Chair of the English Department, refers to sabbatical leave as a “privilege.”

“It is competitive even amongst [different] schools [at Manhattan College],” Cross said.

One professor who was fortunate enough to receive a sabbatical leave for the 2015-16 school year is Doctor Margaret Toth, associate professor of English at MC. Toth, who also directs the Film Studies program moderates the MC Film Society, applied last year—her first year tenured.

“I’m very excited about having time to devote to my scholarship,” Toth said. “While I love being in the classroom, it is tricky to balance out teaching and research responsibilities and nearly impossible to immerse yourself in writing a book-length project.”

“I will have a full year to devote to my research and writing, which is a gift. At the same time, I know I will have to develop strategies to lend structure to my days,” she said. Most of the research and exploration Toth will be engaged in on her leave is gauged toward the development of her book that she is writing, on author Edith Wharton.

“The timing [of my sabbatical] was perfect, since I will use my sabbatical to work on my book project, ‘Spirituality, Nostalgia, and Material Culture in Edith Wharton’s Fiction,’” Toth said.

Gathering materials for a project like a book does require some moving around. She plans on doing a good deal of travel over her break from the classroom, traveling to places both local, like the NY Public Library, and places like Europe.

“Luckily for me, many of the materials I need for my research are housed right here in New York City at the New York Public Library. I also plan to visit relatively local archives, such as The Mount in Lenox, MA, Wharton’s former home, and the Beinecke Library at Yale, which contains Wharton’s papers,” Toth said.

“My most exciting prospect is to stay in Florence, Italy for a month. Wharton spent a lot of time in Europe, and many of her works are inspired by her experiences in Italy. And if I’m really lucky, I’ll also be spending some time in the Borrego Desert, CA—a quiet retreat that’s perfect for writing.”

Toth’s book explores both 19th Century American Literature and visual content. It will merge the two ideas, as well as material culture from the time. “Professor Toth’s book is a global context that hasn’t been done on Edith before… [it explores] ghost fiction and Wharton’s critique of spirituality,” Cross said.

Sabbatical is an opportunity for professors to step away from the class room and focus on their research, but according to Cross, the experience makes their teaching better.

“It is a really great thing to do for the love of teaching. Two reasons it is good is because [a professor] can recharge in their own space and they can also focus on their own work without dealing with the other demands of being a college professor. A teacher will come back with excitement.”

As for Dr. Toth’s project, “it’s totally exciting,” Cross said.