Posted tagged ‘study leave’

Sabbatical values

August 8, 2009

As I wrote yesterday, right now I am in the United States on vacation. In fact, almost exactly 25 years ago I was in Americas for the first time ever. At that time I was doing research for a book, which was about comparative industrial relations law and practice. My original intention was to cover Ireland, the United Kingdom and Germany in my study, but the publishers felt the book would sell better if I also included the United States. My then Head of Department agreed, and secured for me a term of sabbatical leave so that I could travel to the US to do the necessary work there. And so, in mid-1984, I travelled to Berkeley in California, and for the next while I stayed there with the Institute of Industrial Relations (now the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment).

For me this was an eye opener in all sorts of ways. Like so many people in Europe, I knew America from the movies and TV, and arriving there was in some ways like turning up on a movie set; it took me several days before it actually felt real. This was during the Reagan presidency, which had had a major impact both on US industrial relations practice, and also on European perceptions of America. It was a time of huge change, and in the University of California at Berkeley this was reflected in very lively debate. This debate stretched across the disciplines, and for the first time I fully appreciated the value of economic analysis, for example, in identifying and developing a perspective on law. In short, my period in California made me the kind of academic I became, and was one of the biggest influences on my subsequent career. It also left me with a lifelong interest in and affection for the United States, warts and all.

Right now, as we re-assess what is desirable and what is affordable in academic life, one of the risks is that with growing pressures on staffing resources we will find we can no longer afford to allocate such sabbaticals. This would have quite profound consequences: the opportunity for young academics in particular to expand their horizons and to learn from international best practice has been an important driver of academic quality. It seems to me that we need to ensure that we can continue to offer this, and to make it possible within our academic structures, even with tighter budgets and greater staffing constraints. To lose it would be an enormous step backwards.

I hope that future generations of academics will continue to experience new insights from sabbatical visits to other countries and cultures, and that they won’t have to wait until they can afford to travel there, at their own cost, on vacation.