Sabbaticals are meant to free you from teaching and committee work, but what about service to your discipline?
During the third month of my sabbatical, I was asked to
- adjudicate a journal prize competition
- assess a book manuscript
- write a brief review essay, and
- evaluate submissions to two academic journals.
Should being on sabbatical have affected whether I accepted these requests?
Although some readers might instinctively say yes – isn’t the point of a sabbatical to focus on your own personal and professional goals? – I’m not so certain.
Sure, there must be limits, but is it really fair, or right, to deny your services to the broader academic community for one year out of every seven?
I see three issues here.
First, there is the golden rule. I have had two very positive experiences taking book manuscripts from submission to publication and have every hope that this sabbatical leads to a third.
It follows that I feel an obligation to help others get through the peer review process just as smoothly.
Second, I think it’s important that the academy remains largely self-regulatory: it matters that the peer review process – and not the opinions of non-experts from government or elsewhere – retains the internal and external credibility that it generally still has today.
Tenured professors who are granted sabbatical leave have the professional credibility necessary to sustain the integrity of the peer review process. If every sabbaticant refused all requests to serve as a peer reviewer, the pool from which editors could draw would decrease by as much as 15 percent, causing these editors to refer manuscripts to reviewers who might not have the same degree of experience or credibility. Such an outcome could eventually damage the reputation of the profession.
Finally, I see the peer review process as a service that post-tenure and senior faculty should perform for the sake of graduate students in particular.
I am fortunate that, at this point in my career, I will not face undo harm if an article I have written is published six months late because a reviewer takes longer than expected to complete a report, or doesn’t submit a report at all. Graduate students headed for the job market have no such luxury.
In summary, in my experience, service is typically treated by most members of the academy as, at best, the poor cousin of research (and teaching). And I understand that the incentive structure at most institutions only reinforces this unfortunate perception and likely makes it easy for sabbaticants to set aside requests to review manuscripts while they are on leave.
But I worry about what happens when those of us inside the academy do less than we can to maintain the integrity of the profession.
The alternative, letting outsiders make academic decisions, rarely seems to lead to positive results.