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Legal Commentary: Prawfs
The Point of Sabbaticals -- My Experience
By Dan Markel, Ethan Leib, Rick Garnett, Matt Bodie, Paul Horwitz , Steve Vladeck, and Orly Lobel
A bit over a year ago, I did a guest blog post about the prospect of going on sabbatical. What, I wondered, would I accomplish and what exactly was the point of a semester with no teaching or committee duties? I post now not just to satisfy what I assume is the curiosity of millions and millions of my fans about me personally, but also to talk about the sabbatical experience more generally, having now actually completed one.
In short, I planned to do a zillion things, did only some of those, and wound up doing a number of projects that weren?t on my list but were very rewarding. My main goal was to learn about international and comparative labor and employment law (with the idea of either teaching a class later or publishing something). Also, I was also going to read all those law review articles and books on various topics piled up on my desk; look at the subjects I teach with new eyes; come into the office only rarely; and generally recharge my batteries (despite not really knowing what that meant). Oh, and I was going to improve my guitar playing and French language skills, get in better shape, spend more time with the family . . . .
As it turned out, I did learn some things about international and comparative labor law (and had a fun time being a commentator on a panel on that subject at the LSA conference in Berlin). I may teach a class in that area in the future, but I never felt I had anything interesting enough to say about it to write an article. Instead, I wound up starting work on a project with some other law prof to write a new casebook (one that covers both private and public sector labor law, a brilliant idea, really). I wrote a couple of short book reviews for the Journal of American History and the Law and History Review. I gave a couple of papers (which may or may not turn into articles). I?m still not Jimi Hendrix, fluent in French, or a marathoner, but I?m a little better in all those areas. And I loved hanging with my then-three year old son.
So, are sabbaticals justified as something other than a perk? Well, I had more time for scholarship. I got into a new field in depth and still had time to commit to another, quite different, major project. I could spend a few weeks to generate a short book review, one not even in a law journal; it would have been harder to justify the time for that given a full workload. I conceptualized how I could teach a new class (yes, folks do this while working a full load, but it?s easier when you?re not). As to my batteries, I dunno: I generally like my job quite well, so I didn?t really feel burned out. But I could see how some folks could benefit from some time off, especially in schools with political or other internal tensions (fortunately, my school doesn?t have any serious issues along those lines). The absence of some committee work probably brightened my mood as well as creating more time.
Regrets? I honestly did miss teaching (not grading, though). I probably came into the office more than I should have. And one can be tempted, on some days, to treat a sabbatical more like a vacation, which isn?t the point. Finally, I never did write, stage, and star in, "Public Sector Labor Law: The Musical!" But I have another sabbatical coming up in just over six years. . . .
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