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BU Adopts Junior Scholar Leave

Tenure-track faculty can now apply for a paid-leave semester


Boston University President Robert A. Brown has approved a revised faculty sabbatical policy that for the first time allows a semester-long junior scholar leave for eligible tenure-track faculty. The new provision was recommended by the Boston University Council and approved by Brown in a memo to University Provost Jean Morrison on March 29. It will be implemented in the 2013–2014 academic year, and it brings BU in line with other top institutions by allowing junior faculty to have paid “protected time” to devote themselves to creativity and scholarship before review for tenure.

A majority of the 62 institutions in the Association of American Universities (AAU), which BU joined in fall 2012, provide a similar leave, which has become increasingly common among major universities nationwide, says Julie Sandell, associate provost for faculty affairs and a School of Medicine professor, who helped develop the new policy. “Every tenure track faculty member is expected to produce significant scholarship or creative work within the finite probationary period, so there is broad support for providing everyone with that protected time.” She says that the policy evens out the playing field for different disciplines. At the School of Law, for example, protected time for scholarship for junior faculty has been standard for some time. In other disciplines, like engineering or biology, “people are often able to reduce their teaching load because they receive external grants,” she says. But in others, like some of the social sciences and communication, external grants are harder to come by.

“The new junior scholar leave policy puts us in a position to compete for the very best junior faculty,” says Brown. “This leave will allow promising young members of the faculty to focus their efforts on their research during a critical period of their careers at Boston University.”

To be eligible for the semester of paid leave, junior faculty must have completed at least six full semesters of full-time service, Sandell says. The new policy states: “Tenure-track assistant professors (or associate professors in the law school) who have undergone a formal mid-tenure review and are deemed to be making good progress towards achieving tenure are eligible to apply…for one semester of paid Junior Scholar leave to concentrate solely on scholarly and/or creative work in the final years before tenure review.” Leave will be granted by school or college deans, who believe the semester of scholarship “is likely to strengthen the candidate’s overall application for tenure at Boston University.”

The new policy “is extremely important because it provides our assistant professors with a critical opportunity to devote fully concentrated efforts on their research at a time when they are launching their independent scholarly careers,” says Virginia Sapiro, dean of Arts & Sciences. “It also gives BU a competitive advantage against many other universities that do not offer this opportunity as a matter of policy—at many universities if assistant professors get a pretenure leave, it is as a result of individual arrangements.” Morrison calls the junior scholar leave provision “an important new investment by the University in the scholarship and creative work of our most promising junior faculty at a critical time before tenure review.”

In addition to providing for junior faculty leave, the University has clarified its regular sabbatical policy. Faculty with standard professorial titles are eligible to request sabbatical leave (half an academic year at full salary, or a full academic year at half salary, to pursue scholarly and creative work) after 12 full semesters of full-time service, so “practically speaking, as soon as faculty are tenured, they are eligible for sabbatical,” says Sandell. “That’s how it’s always been.” However, “when the University increased the pretenure probationary period to seven years, we created a conflict for ourselves,” Sandell says, “because some assistant professors became eligible for a first sabbatical leave during the year they would be reviewed for tenure.” The revision to the sabbatical policy now added to the Faculty Handbook makes it clear that “faculty members are not eligible for sabbatical leave during the final year of their tenure review process.” However, if tenure is granted, the revision states, “the tenure review year will be credited towards the length of service required before consideration for the next sabbatical.” In other words, Sandell explains, “the two semesters of service during the tenure review year are not lost; they reduce the semesters of service needed for a subsequent sabbatical.”

“These policy updates are an essential step in supporting the scholarly progress of talented faculty at Boston University,” says Morrison. “They will help to clarify questions faculty and deans have had regarding sabbatical eligibility.”

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