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Sabbaticals, course offerings lead to student concern

Published: April 1, 2007
Section: News

This weekends release of the fall 2007 course selection showed that professors from several departments were taking sabbaticals in the coming semester, leaving some students concerned about completing majors and taking certain courses. Overall, there will be 51 professors on sabbatical in the 07-08 academic year, and while most departments are losing three of four professors, other such as NEJS are facing steeper losses.

Sabbatical professors in the coming year include Professor Jerry Cohen (AMST), Professor Timo Gilmore (ENG), Professor Thomas King (ENG), and Professor Arthur Holmberg (THA). Professor Gilmore will be writing a book on slavery, race, and free speech in nineteenth-century American literature, while Professor Cohen will be writing about Lincoln and the conspiracy of the Civil War.

There are some professors, meanwhile, who are not taking sabbatical, but are not teaching undergraduates outside of directed research and senior theses, including Professor Arthur Reis (CHEM), Professor Arthur Wingfield (PSYC), Professor Eve Marder (BIO), and Professor Paul Morrison (ENG).

While course offerings may sometimes be affected, a challenge lies in seeking replacements. According to Gilmore, who is chair of the English Department, we do our best to secure replacements for lost courses, but there is nothing automatic about this. The administration sometimes helps out in the case of fellowships [or departures], never in the case of sabbaticals.

Professor Stephen Whitfield (AMST), explained, there is nothing abnormal about the rotation of sabbaticals and leaves of absence, which come in cycles. He added, the bulk of the courses offered in the Department of American Studies are taught as seminars, with the admirable student-to-faculty ratios that many Brandeis students say makes the university so appealing. The impact is truly felt, according to Whitfield, when popular professors with large classes such as Cohen leave.

Still, not every major change in course offerings is tied to sabbatical leaves. For example, the Film Studies program is offering a reduced number of classes next fall. Also, there are no foreign film classes available, which are a requirement for the minor. Traditionally, however, the film studies program has offered many more classes in the spring.

According to Film Studies chair Professor Alice Kelikian (FILM), who is also going on sabbatical in the fall, the issue of is not related to sabbaticals, but instead the structure of the program. She said, as an inter-departmental program, we are at the mercy of the curricular decision of the departments.

Having a glut of spring semester film courses and fewer fall semester offerings is a happenstance occurrence. Also, retirements pose serious implication on offerings. In the case of the film program, the retirement of Professor Erica Harth (COML), who has previously taught French cinema, has put that aspect of the program on hold temporarily.

While these variations do occurs and are often outside the control of some departments, ultimately either replacements are found or courses are adjusted to meet these changes. Still, sabbaticals sometimes do come at a high cost to students, who are often at the mercy of their majors. For example, the East Asian studies program is facing reduced offerings. According to Clarissa Stewart 10 it just looks bleak for East Asian studies people. Meanwhile, in the theater program, Introduction to Theatre, the preliminary course and prerequisite for most other theater courses, is not being offered.

Outside of the introductory courses, a number of higher-level classes will not be offered because of sabbaticals. Classes such as Shakespeare and Modern Drama are not available, thus denying some students the chance to explore major facets of their respective majors. Forensic Science, a regular student favorite, will also not be offered in the fall. In the neuroscience program, both Professor Arthur Wingfield (PSYC) and Professor Eve Marder (BIO) will be on leave, and courses such as Human Neuropsychology will not be offered.

Student reaction to the sabbaticals and course selection in general has been mixed. Lauren Becker 08 said, unfortunately sabbaticals are a part of a university and although the professors and faculty members who will be taking the semester or the year off next year are irreplaceable, other faculty members have stepped up to the plate and are taking on full time positions next year in order to compensate.

Tegan Kahoe 10 commented, for the most part, the [course selection for next semester] is good. But I was surprised in some areas where certain classes arent being offered which usually are every semesterIm also having a harder time finding courses that will be interesting for my major.

Rami Abdelghafar 10 discussed his own experiences as a neuroscience major. He said, I kind of did realize a lot of classes are starting to die down.

Kenny Fuentes 08 said, I haven't had any direct problems regarding sabbaticals affecting my class choice, although I have noticed that some of the class offerings for next semester appear to be switching around to accommodate other professors on sabbatical. I don't see any direct line, but it appears that there are ripple effects. Still, I am satisfied with my class choices for next semester.