Several departments at Trinity have seen a higher number of temporarily vacant positions this fall after many professors applied for academic leave.
Zeina Zayat, a Trinity junior and a chemistry major, claims that the chemistry department is one such department that has been affected by a smaller faculty size this semester.
“There were only three organic [chemistry] professors in the chemistry department to begin with. One took a leave of absence and Dr. Bachrach left Trinity for a different position at another school, so that left the chem department pretty thin, especially in terms of organics,” Zayat said.
According to Tim O’Sullivan, interim associate vice president for academic affairs, one cause for the increase in the number of professors on leave is a new program Trinity instituted for junior faculty.
“I can confirm that there will be a general increase [in professors leaving] both this year and next because we have a new leave program for junior faculty. At most of our peer institutions, usually in the fourth year, that faculty member will have the opportunity to apply for academic leave of a semester or a year. The idea there is to give them time before they go up for tenure to work on their research full time,” O’Sullivan said.
Sara Calvo, a Trinity junior and mathematical finance major, is supportive of the school’s program to help give junior faculty members an edge.
“I think the new program makes sense. It’s hard for professors to focus on teaching when they’re worried about getting tenure, and it’s hard for them to put in the work to get tenure if they’re focused on teaching,” Calvo said.
Faculty must apply for and be approved to take academic leave to pursue their research objectives.
“Faculty write up a proposal of what they’re going to do with their semester, and then that is reviewed by a committee of other faculty members. That committee, the faculty development committee, reviews those proposals and will then decide if they merit academic leave,” O’Sullivan said.
It is not out of the ordinary for faculty to take academic leave, nor is it usually problematic for the departments they work in.
“This is just a part of the life of the university. For the most part, because it is a cycle, departments can really plan ahead. It’s not unheard of for the department to ask a professor to take their leave in the fall or spring semester, depending on what their regular course rotation is, or even to ask for them to take their leave in an entirely different year, depending on the teaching demands of each department,” O’Sullivan said.
Because faculty will usually take leave in a cyclical fashion, departments are typically able to plan in advance and make the necessary adjustments to prevent disruption.
“Chairs of departments know at least a couple years in advance what the likely pattern is going to be for professors going on leave within their department. There are different things that departments can do to adjust for professors on leave. Some can satisfy their pedagogical needs with their existing faculty in the department; many departments will apply to academic affairs for what are called visiting positions. Basically, these are professors who are hired to teach at Trinity for a semester, a year, a given amount of time, but are not on the track for tenure here at Trinity,” O’Sullivan said.
Not all vacancies can be planned in advance, of course.
“The other issues that can affect this are of course that professors can be hired by other institutions, they may retire, these kinds of things. So there will be occasions when a faculty member needs to be replaced in short order,” O’Sullivan said.