Administrators, how would you use a professional sabbatical?

A recent Forbes The article, “The Great Resignation Turned Into A Great Sabbatical,” by Danica Lo caught my attention with great interest because the idea of ​​a sabbatical for college administrators appealed to me a great deal. worried lately. Communications directors, along with other college leaders, are worn out by the stress of persistently handling crisis communications over the past two years. And even before the pandemic, Americans were notorious for working too much and taking too few vacations.

While it’s essential to disconnect from your day-to-day work and responsibilities, it’s important not to confuse the academy’s intention of a sabbatical with a personal vacation. I believe it is possible for administrators to reset and recharge while changing course to engage in research and other activities that support their service to their college or university. Many faculty members have realized this academic leave benefit since Harvard introduced it in the late 19th century. However, few academic institutions offer it to professional staff.

A sabbatical for higher education administrators should incorporate the study of a common campus problem that requires informal research, evaluation, and full focus to come up with viable and workable solutions for the sponsoring institution. The question should be broad enough to apply to two or more administrative divisions, or even to the entire institution. The sabbatical should be reserved for professionals who have the power to influence major institutional changes such as heads (deans, vice presidents and executive directors) and deputy/associate heads of divisions and large institutional offices.

Unlike faculty, whose schedule is typically structured into semesters, terms, or quarters, administrators design their work schedules around fiscal years. Administrative work doesn’t stop when the semester ends and summer vacation begins; spring and winter holidays have little bearing on deadlines or the demand for meetings. Therefore, I propose that an administrative sabbatical be for three months and include a budget for research, travel and materials. That’s long enough to recharge and reset, but short enough to fully transfer work responsibilities without too much hassle. It’s also a manageable opportunity for a rising star in your division.

For administrators who are privileged to have so much time and resources, I offer my thoughts on how I would design my own sabbatical:

  1. As a communications and marketing professional, I would choose a topic that is fundamental to the work of our division, but also critical right now on campuses around the world: campus culture.
  2. I would write specific research questions, such as: What types of subcultures make up a campus culture? What are their common values? How are these values ​​communicated and maintained? What artifacts (eg, traditions, events, people, etc.) drive organizational culture? What assumptions exist about organizational communication (top-down, peer-to-peer, grassroots)? How to measure the tolerance of a culture to change?
  3. I would identify three colleges – two peer institutions and one aspirational – to visit and key people to interview. During campus visits, I spent time developing my own sense of place and observing how individuals interact on each campus.
  4. Then I would spend a period of days away from home synthesizing my findings and creating a framework that I could apply to nurture the culture in my own institution.
  5. Finally, I would develop a proposal to my president and senior colleagues for potentially actionable items that could support our goals of enriching our campus culture.

Here are some other sabbatical ideas for communication professionals:

  • Visit an international institution that achieves ambitious goals similar to yours.
  • Enroll in professional development agreed to by you and your president or vice president.
  • Followed by a president or chief of staff at another college or university.
  • Writing an article to be submitted for publication.
  • Develop higher education communication and marketing case studies to present as presentations at the conference.
  • Launching a new blog for your college or university.
  • Organize a fair for higher education CCOs and produce a video, podcast or article to share the key ideas that were discussed.

In addition to mitigating the Great Resignation, a sabbatical for directors and senior executives can be mutually beneficial for the professional and the sponsoring institution. A three-month time frame is long enough to refresh your mind and spirit as well as accomplish a meaningful project.

Melissa Farmer Richards is Vice President of Communications and Marketing at Hamilton College in Clinton, NY

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