GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Edith Kaan, whose research into the way people respond to foreign languages normally keeps her busy in a lab in the maze of Turlington Hall's basement, spent most of the past year traveling abroad courtesy of a sabbatical awarded by the University of Florida.
The associate professor in linguistics attended conferences around the country and conducted research at other universities in the Netherlands, Spain and China, exploring new areas in her field and meeting new colleagues to lay the groundwork for future research.
When she returned this summer to the classroom, she was excited to share everything she had learned with her students.
"I came back brimming with ideas," Kaan said. "This is why I became a professor."
UF supports professional development and faculty research by granting sabbaticals to eligible faculty members each year — full-time tenured faculty who have not had a sabbatical for six years as of June.
"The university provides the opportunity for sabbaticals as a means for professional development for faculty members," Provost Joe Glover said. "They will often use the sabbatical to pursue a research program, to do field work, to concentrate on writing a book, and other academic pursuits."
The Office of the Provost's website says sabbaticals "contribute significantly to the quality and success of research universities" and increase "a faculty member's value to the university."
Until 2010, when a new faculty contract was ratified, faculty could apply for either one semester at full pay or two semesters at half pay. Since the new contract, they could also apply for two semesters at full pay. Before the introduction of the two-semester, full-pay sabbatical, the percentage of eligible faculty on sabbatical leave was around 10 percent, according to figures from the Provost's office.
The first time two-semester, full pay sabbaticals were available, the number of recipients jumped from 72 to 87 — or from 11.3 percent of 632 eligible faculty members to 16.2 percent of 537. Last year, 76 professors were on sabbatical, nearly 14 percent of the 551 eligible.
Faculty members have to apply for the sabbaticals by submitting proposals that are then reviewed by a selection committee in their college. The committee passes on a ranked list to the dean of the college, who sends final sabbatical recommendations to the Office of the Provost for final approval.
"Faculty compete with other faculty for sabbatical," said Jack Davis, a history professor who spent the last year doing research for a book on the environmental history of the Gulf of Mexico. The committee recognized the value of his research and that the timing was right.
"I proposed embarking on a one-month-long research trip around the Gulf, which I took in the spring of last year, from Marco Island, Florida, to Padre Island, Texas," Davis said.
He did research at historical libraries, archives and societies, and at university libraries and archives. He interviewed people for his project, and those interviews will be transcribed and given to the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program.
Davis said he was able to finish principal research for his book and write four of the 12 chapters he plans to write, and spent a month writing one of those chapters in a gulfside cottage at the Escape to Create artist colony at Seaside.
All the while he was on sabbatical, however, Davis was still responsible to the graduate students he supervises, which included attending one of his students' dissertation defense.
Under the new contract signed by UF and the faculty union last week, the university each year will continue to offer 50 two-semester, full-pay sabbaticals and 40 one-semester, full-pay sabbaticals to tenured faculty with six years of full-time employment. No fewer than 140 semesters of sabbatical leave will be granted.
The university also will provide $500,000 for "alternative sabbaticals" for tenured faculty. The alternative sabbatical is based on a pilot that has been running for the past three years known as the Faculty Enhancement Opportunity, or FEO, Glover said.
"We noticed that there are many faculty on campus for whom a one-semester or two-semester leave format is not practical," he said.
Some professors cannot uproot their families for a year, or have clinical and supervisory duties that prevent them from leaving for extended periods. So for three years the university experimented with a flexible format and got mostly positive feedback, Glover said.
"The alternative sabbatical helps the research mission of the university because it gives faculty the flexibility to propose a research project that best suits them," Glover said.
"This is a welcome feature because we think the more flexibility there is for individual faculty members to have their particular needs met in an optimum way, the better," said John Biro, president of the university's faculty union. "Not everybody is served by the same model, we thought, and the university agreed."
That might have made things easier for Marta Wayne and her husband, Charlie Baer, who are both biology professors at UF and have a 7-year-old daughter. "It was really important that my husband and I both got one, or we could have stayed in town if only one of us got it," Wayne said.
They stayed in Gainesville for the first semester to make the transition easier on their daughter and to stay in touch with their lab on campus. "I came in every day," she said.
She said she didn't get as much accomplished as she had wanted that first semester, but did get to read a lot more, submit grants and explore new topics in detail.
Wayne, who studies fruit flies and their coevolution with viruses to help better understand what makes us sick, also got to learn about a new virus system in fruit flies.
Wayne also used the fall semester to get a table of contents approved and details of a contract worked out with a publisher for a book she is co-authoring with a colleague at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.
Once that was finished, she and her family moved up to Hamilton so she could work directly with her colleague.
"There was no lab work at all in Canada, and that was really fun," she said. "I enjoy lab work, but I really enjoy thinking about stuff. You think as a faculty member that's what you will do, but actually you don't get a lot of time to do that."
Wayne said her goal is to use the research she did this past year as the foundation for getting an outside grant, which will enable her to better train others. The grant money she potentially receives and the papers she publishes based on that research will bring recognition to the university.
Kaan used her sabbatical not only to sharpen her own expertise in her current field of linguistics but to branch out into an area dealing with bilingualism and learning a second language.
She also received outside grant money that paid the costs for her to spend four months at the Utrecht Institute of Linguistics in the Netherlands, and one month as a visiting scholar at the City University of Hong Kong. "There's this whole access to Chinese learners of English that laid the groundwork for future research," Kaan said. That research will hopefully lead to more effective ways to teach language as a second language, she said.
It also gave her graduate research assistant, Joe Kirkham, a chance to expand his horizons after all the time spent in the Turlington basement helping Kaan hook up electrodes to people's heads to monitor their brain waves as they read or listen to other languages.
Doing research in a new lab and a new environment after years of academic study gave him hands-on experience that boosted his confidence in his ability to handle new situations.
Said Kirkham: "Getting to work on this project was a real treat."
Information from: The Gainesville (Fla.) Sun, http://www.gainesvillesun.com