Resistance, Creativity and Law School Sabbaticals
Principal Lecturer in Law
Principal Lecturer in Law
© 2013 Maureen Spencer and Penny Kent
First published in the Web Journal of Current Legal Issues
Citation; Spencer M and Kent P, 'Resistance, Creativity and Law School Sabbaticals', (2013) 19(4) Web JCLI
The Authors are grateful to Professor Julian Webb former Head of the UKCLE for permission to reproduce material from the Report.
Copies of the survey questionnaire are available on request.
A number of authors cite the commodification of university research through a managerialist directed emphasis on audit, output and league tables as a stark example of the increasing and regrettable marginalisation of teaching in higher education (Morley 2003, Thornton 2012). More optimistic accounts of current trends in university departments are put forward by other researchers who claim that academics, resistant to dirigiste managements, strive to achieve a more rounded working life by building connections between teaching and research (Bradney 2003), Barnett 2010 and Cownie 2004, 2011). This article, which reports on a UKCLE funded study of the operation of sabbatical leave in ten law schools in England, Wales and Scotland, goes some way to provide evidence of such resistance. The operation of sabbatical leave, associated as it is primarily with performativity in research, might be expected to accord little space for pedagogic development. The survey brought to light, however, a number of ways law academics succeed in drawing on sabbatical leave to develop strategies for enhancing student learning and pedagogy while progressing discipline-based research output. Such strategies, it is suggested, are concrete examples of opportunities for curtailing the bureaucratic agenda which imposes a competitive relationship between teaching and research. It is argued that law school sabbaticals, even when primarily dedicated to discipline based research output, can additionally make a contribution to student learning.
In her recent book Privatising the Law School Margaret Thornton (2012) examines, inter alia, the deleterious effects of neo-liberalism on academic research, given the emphasis on quantity of outputs and the prevailing demands of "publish or perish". She highlights how increasing commodification of research has encouraged individualism, competitiveness and a marginalisation of the teaching role of academics. An ever intrusive managerialist culture, she argues, confines academic activity within the requirements of the bureaucratic corporatised university which, with an eye on the league tables, privileges research hyperactivity, often to the detriment of other considerations particularly the needs of undergraduates. It seems that managerialism is extinguishing collegiality and the concept of the rounded academic who values both teaching and research. Thornton concludes (2012 p.210): "In this study, I have sought to show how the market has impoverished the law curriculum, commodified research, transformed students into customers, reduced academics to auditable performers and generally encouraged a lowest common denominator approach". Others have highlighted the separate official funding and monitoring regimes governing teaching and research which tend to undermine connectivity between them (Halse et al 2007).
Some commentators, on the other hand, doubt if senior managers always have it all their own way. They present an alternative view to Thornton's somewhat dystopian picture. Cownie for example (2004 p206) writes, "…the culture of academic law and the professional identities constructed within it display a great deal of resilience". Part of this resilience is resistance to attempts to marginalise teaching. Cownie points out (p129) how "being a good teacher" mattered to the law academics she interviewed. She comments, "Teaching was seen as an important part of professional identity not only in new universities, where some respondents were not involved in research, giving the teaching role primacy, but across both sectors and all levels of experience". Bradney (2003 p201) similarly claims "…though there have been attempts to bureaucratise and corporatise the university, they have been resisted and can continue to be resisted". Writing about academic disciplines generally, the philosopher of higher education Barnett (2010 p46) deplores growing bureaucratisation, which he refers to as "….a university life lived out by the proforma". However he expresses confidence that academics can reassert agency in their working lives. He points out that academics do have choices to make and can elect to resist managerial domination of their working lives. He writes, (2010 p 82): "Our first conclusion is not that the university lives in multiple space and timeframes (although it does) but that it has its being amid multiple space and timeframe options". In other words it is arguable that the supposed new paradigm whereby academics are primarily measured and valued by research output may not so immutable after all.
This article subjects the apparently opposing assumptions outlined above to empirical investigation. It comments on the results of the authors' UKCLE funded study, completed in 2010, into how far university sabbaticals, awarded for the production of research outputs, are appreciated by academics as an opportunity also for pedagogic and curriculum development. The survey investigated how far such creativity, where it existed, was a challenge to the stance of senior managers in Law Schools. The latter could argue that pedagogic outcomes are ultra vires the primary objective of sabbaticals, associated as they are with the production of discipline based research outputs. Sabbaticals in this light present a microcosm or synecdoche with which to view broader relationships in universities. The detailed account of the UKCLE survey and its methodology are published elsewhere.(1) This article offers some additional reflections on the implications of the findings for current academic practice in particular for ways of advancing student learning at a time when the forthcoming Research Excellence Framework is a pre-occupation of senior university managements. The research question examined in the survey was whether university expectations for research sabbaticals currently mean that they provide scant opportunity for additional pedagogic impact. Arguably therefore this might be a missed opportunity to strengthen the association between teaching and research in this discrete area of academic practice. The survey set out to investigate whether there is any empirical evidence that, in this specific period of their working lives, academics are in fact willing and able to draw on their sabbatical research in their subsequent teaching despite university requirements to confine sabbaticals to discipline based research. Another more tangible objective was to reveal any staff working practices which facilitated a foundational connection to be made between areas of academic work.
The research was conducted in a number of stages. The researchers first investigated whether universities listed on the UKCLE website as offering qualifying law degrees in England, Wales and Scotland had a current sabbatical policy. Those which did were grouped according to five regions (Scotland, the North, the Midlands and East Anglia, London and South East, Wales and South West). Two Law Schools, one pre- and one post-1992 were selected randomly from each of these regions. A letter citing an online questionnaire (hosted by Survey Monkey) was emailed to the Heads of these Law Schools/ Departments. We asked the Heads to forward the invitation to complete the questionnaire to all law academic staff in their institution, whether granted a sabbatical during their career at their current university or not. We wished to hear the views of those not considered "research active" in the conventional sense to be heard along with those of active researchers. For the purpose of the questionnaire, "sabbaticals" were defined as periods of paid leave, usually lasting between three months and a year, taken by members of the academic staff of a university for the purpose of conducting scholarly research, and/or engaging in the preparation of teaching materials or other work relating to teaching, and/or taking a recognised course of academic or professional study, and/or undergoing a finite period of secondment to work in another institution.
The online questionnaire, launched after a pilot study, asked a series of eighteen questions centred on the perceptions of the respondents about the pedagogic possibilities afforded by sabbaticals in their university. The researchers also conducted face- to-face interviews with those who indicated in their questionnaire response that they were willing to meet us. Finally, in order to include the views of those whose teaching had been publicly applauded, the researchers made email contact with legal academics whose teaching had been recognised by the award of a National Teaching Fellowship or the title Law Teacher of the Year (England and Wales) or Law Lecturer of the Year (Scotland). The lists were obtained from the UKCLE website.
We received 22 responses to the online questionnaire. The methodology proved problematic in that we were dependant on the cooperation of busy Heads of Departments to forward the questionnaires to their staff. It proved difficult to establish whether they had done so since there were no responses at all from staff in six universities in the original sample. We therefore selected a further six universities in order to achieve a spread across the sector and the regions. By the end of the process we received responses from at least one university in each of the regions. Overall the post-1992s were overly represented in the responses (15 out of the 22 respondents). The respondents ranged from Professor to Lecturer, nine male and thirteen female. The universities covered were predominantly research active in that 19 respondents told us that their law school had been entered for the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise.
Although the number of questionnaire responses precludes claims to statistical significance the survey results were unexpectedly rich in the extensive written comments to the open-ended questions in the questionnaire. In addition eleven respondents agreed to a further face- to-face meeting. Two respondents agreed to be interviewed together and a further nine were interviewed individually.(2) Semi-structured interviews, each lasting about one hour, were conducted by the researchers exploring respondents' views on the open–ended questions in the questionnaire, namely the potential for periods of sabbatical leave to have an impact on student learning. The interviews began with an explanation from the researchers of the context of the research. Interviewees were asked to provide a brief portrait of their research and teaching interests and the structure of the department or school. The themes explored concerned the perceived status of teaching, the dissemination of sabbatical research and the expectations of the university following a return from sabbatical. The approach of the interviewers in questioning was flexible to allow interviewees to develop their ideas. The e-mailed responses from the national teaching award winners provided further detailed comment particularly on the status of pedagogic research. All the award holders we contacted responded(3).
This article reviews the implications of the qualitative responses so generously provided by the combined total of thirty two respondents. Since they formed separate cohorts the responses from the sample of academic staff and those from the national the award winners will be examined separately here before an overall evaluation of the survey results is made.
Ten of the twenty two questionnaire respondents had been awarded a sabbatical during their career at their current university. All sabbaticals awarded to theses respondents were for research, none being was awarded for the preparation of teaching materials or for any other purposes specifically related to pedagogy. Despite this there was support from half of the respondents for the suggestion that sabbaticals should be available for the study of teaching. Eleven respondents answered "Yes" to the question "In your view should your university department offer sabbaticals to academic staff where the purpose includes engaging in the preparation of teaching materials or other work related to teaching?"
It was clear from the additional comments that respondents considered that institutional policy on sabbaticals should be considered in the light of overall work programme planning. Some respondents, while endorsing the view that sabbaticals should be purely for research purposes, whether on discipline content or pedagogy, suggested that developing teaching should be best be achieved through planning work schedules during the academic year :
"In my opinion, there is adequate time in the normal course of the academic year for teaching preparation and other work related to teaching. While new modules/programmes are being developed, this is factored in to our staff workloads. All staff are given time in each and every academic year for 'scholarship' related to learning and teaching. The need for sabbaticals is more specifically directed at the 'research' aspect of the academic job - because in the ordinary course of the academic year there is not time to devote time to a sustained period of in-depth academic research." (Lecturer, female, post -1992, Midlands and East Anglia)
However, the survey interviews as well as the additional written comments in the questionnaires suggested a degree of scepticism on whether university managements were in practice receptive to staff initiatives in teaching given the pre-occupation with research:
"It is difficult to see how it [a sabbatical] would have any definable impact on teaching or on the curriculum because I will not be able to spend any time developing my courses (much as I would like to do so) if I am to meet the number of research outputs that my institution expects of me at the end of the sabbatical year. Of course, investing time in research should have some impact on teaching, albeit limited and indirect, in a research-led teaching environment. However, it is my view that universities are still struggling to give any real substance to the idea of research-led teaching, beyond meaning that an institution's primary focus is research, and its secondary focus is teaching." (Lecturer, female, pre-1992, Wales and South West)
University managements did not, she maintained, encourage a balanced approach to teaching and research. The respondent continued:
"There is simply no space currently built into the academic calendar for the development of teaching. In that sense, academics who are expected to deliver both excellence in research and teaching are currently being asked to perform a near impossible task… as long as HE funding is strongly tied to research outputs of a certain quantity and quality, it will be very difficult for individual institutions to initiate a shift of culture that would facilitate a genuinely balanced approach to research and teaching."
The stresses involved in maintaining research productivity were a matter of concern for a number of respondents:
Experience of the conduct of sabbatical policy within my university leads me to the conclusion that the university is not genuinely interested in the positive impact of research published as a result of a sabbatical period on the quality of undergraduate teaching. The university is interested in showing a quantum of publication that it considers will increase the status of the institution in the view of other academics and that will thereby make those who run the university feel important... It is rare that a research sabbatical actually produces material that feeds into undergraduate teaching in a significant way." (Principal Lecturer, female, post-1992, London and South East)
Staff who did express an interest in developing student learning were of the opinion that this would not develop their careers:
"I am really interested in improving legal education and taking responsibility for development in the department. I was told quite strongly that it would be foolish to continue with this… What I would really like is for the climate to shift." (Lecturer, female .pre-1992 university, Wales and South West)
One female Lecturer (pre-1992 university, Midlands and East Anglia), about to embark on her first sabbatical told us that the separation of research and teaching "…is a bit insane". She was in favour of sabbaticals for development of teaching: "If someone's not research active but if they want to design a new module or do some innovative teaching, that needs some time. I think they should be due a sabbatical as well". Others, who would not go so far as accepting the need for sabbaticals to be made available primarily for teaching purposes, did see a possible dual purpose:
"As teaching is the bread and butter of academic work, I have reservations about affording staff paid leave to undertake tasks they should ordinarily be doing as a matter of course if this is the sole purpose of the sabbatical. Research is something which is often put on hold because of time constraints, hence this should be the key focus for sabbatical awards. If the sabbatical is for work on a research project, which incorporates teaching related objectives within a broader remit, I do not have a problem with this." (Senior Lecturer, male, post -1992, North)
As the next section will suggest, such a "broader remit" for sabbaticals does appear to have been achieved by a number of law academics outside of explicit management endorsement.
Five out of the ten respondents who had been awarded a sabbatical answered "Yes" to the question "Do you consider that your sabbatical had a definable impact on teaching or on the curriculum more generally?" There was however little enthusiasm among survey respondents for recording any such impact through a formal audit.(4) All respondents were asked "Should sabbatical recipients be required to demonstrate the impact of the sabbatical on teaching?" Thirteen out of the twenty who answered the question replied "No". In fact any bureaucratic stipulation of measurement of outcomes was seen by some as a problem for both research and teaching. One Lecturer (female, pre-1992, Midlands and East Anglia) commented: "It's really problematic when you have to have a pre-determined outcome because it means that I don't have a month to sit down and try and read Foucault or Derrida or whatever fancy theorist I want to read that I've not yet read. I can't justify spending that time because I need to be using it to produce outputs". She explained why she opposed any attempt at formal measurement: "The link between research and teaching should be organic rather than forced". Similarly a Senior Lecturer (male, post-1992, Scotland) university was "…against prescriptive rules. I think the overall test ought to be the well roundedness of the academic and general fairness in giving these opportunities". Others suggested that the link between teaching and research was self-evident and did not need to be proved:
"High quality, internationally recognised research carried out by academics within a law school 'always' has a beneficial impact on teaching. There is no need to 'demonstrate' this above and beyond the usual reporting requirements after research leave. The increasing emphasis in higher education on being able to measure, quantify and demonstrate impact; takes away from the business of doing research and scholarship." (Lecturer, female, post-1992, Midlands and East Anglia)
There was evidence of some concern that hard- pressed academics should not be put under additional strain of satisfying research and teaching criteria:
"…the quantity and quality of research that we are currently expected to produce makes it very difficult to find time for the development of quality teaching and learning programmes as well. To increase teaching related obligations without first reducing expectations would put academic staff under considerable stress. However I would be in favour of moderating research expectations for the purpose of making room for development of teaching expertise." (Lecturer, female, pre-1992, Wales and South West)
A view expressed by a Professor in a post 1992 university ( male, Midlands and East Anglia) was that although teaching and research should both be valued " … it is quite possible to both teach and research in different areas without there being a clear need to bring the two together". He added, "There is a need to allow for sabbatical/leave to allow people to develop teaching materials/teaching styles/engage in personal development but I think the idea of a link should be resisted".
Other respondents cautioned against seeing research and teaching as being necessarily one continuum. They were distinct activities and a formal requirement to identify the impact of research on teaching might undermine academic freedom. Strong support was expressed for a non-utilitarian view of research: "I think there is value in having research for the sake of research. There's not necessarily a teaching outcome attached to everything….if I am going off and researching feminist legal method, I couldn't really say that's necessarily going to have a direct pedagogical impact on a particular module. I might be able to say that it would inform my teaching but that would be very vague and I'm. not sure how I would be able to evidence that in the way that things now have to be evidenced in terms of output and direct impact". (Lecturer, female, pre-1992, Midlands and East Anglia) Another respondent cautioned against artificially forcing a link between research and teaching and pointed out that the impact may be indirect and thus difficult to measure: "There would be an impact for example in supervising research students but it would be playing games to look for impact where there may not be actual evidence". (Professor, male, post- 1992, London and South East)
The above comments show that some of our respondents were wary of identifying a mechanical connection between research and teaching activities. The interviews and questionnaire comments revealed that academics are able in practice to find subtler more imaginative ways than formal pedagogic impact statements to connect teaching and research in their sabbaticals. There were unquantifiable and intangible effects of research on teaching which were no less valuable: "Research and teaching go together. You need to be absolutely engaged with your subject. I do not have any evidence that a period of refreshment and time to think has an effect on teaching but there ought to be a payoff in keeping teaching fresh since a job which is initially exciting may otherwise be routine." (Professor, male, pre-1992, Scotland)
Interviewees in the survey proposed some creative practices to achieve pedagogic benefit from sabbaticals. Sabbaticals were a potential opportunity to develop a new relationship with students and devise more constructive teaching methods.
"I do not have a problem theoretically in granting a sabbatical to develop a portfolio of teaching but they have to justify this. A hobby-horse of mine us that in the age of mass education we cannot have the relationship with our students that we had in the 1970s…We have to find new ways of interacting and using students to assess themselves – take more responsibility. What is the role of the teacher? It is in stimulating an up to date curriculum using the full range of technology that is available, to encourage students and motivate them so teaching becomes more like a performance. Our work must be more directed. We should manage student learning, not simply teach the substance of a subject in class… This is better than persisting with eighteenth century methods of transmitting information. We could save staff resources but there are difficulties, so we may need to give people time to do this in sabbaticals." (Professor, male, pre-1992, Scotland)
A sabbatical in this respondent's view could thus service both pedagogic and discipline based research. It followed also that the profile of pedagogic research should be raised. This could be achieved, he suggested, by greater willingness on the part of Law Schools to award sabbaticals which combined discipline and pedagogic research. He made an imaginative proposal for combining learning development and research during a sabbatical:
"I would not want [a sabbatical] too monitored. But I would have no problem if a recipient said I want to spend two months on research and one month on a teaching project, as long as there are criteria which are met and the plan is set out clearly. It would depend on the faculty having a Learning and Teaching policy at institutional level. Having to develop teaching is a good thing if it is fitted into a broader approach…On the research side the benefits of a sabbatical are obvious, there is a danger that the teaching impact of a sabbatical will be looked at cynically. We need long term plans that should include a more imaginative approach to teaching."
Respondents highlighted the indirect gains to teaching from research leave:
"I just think that the more research that I do, the more that develops the depth of my teaching and the breadth of materials that I have to draw on. I can see a very clear difference between when I started teaching, in the first year of my PhD, when I had no experience of anything. My teaching at that time was very narrow, one step ahead in the textbook. And now, eight years later, there's a massive difference in how I teach. I have a much broader context from the things that I've read from my research. That now feeds in to how I design Lectures."( Lecturer, female, pre-1992, Midlands and East Anglia)
Another reflected on the relationship between research and the introduction of new modules:
"A sabbatical would develop teaching and broaden what I could offer, for example, a new optional module. It's a good thing to demonstrate benefit to teaching. There is a tension between teaching and research. Most of our optional modules have come from staff research, for example in Animal Law, Sports Law… I cannot think of any research I have undertaken which has not fed into my teaching." (Senior Lecturer, male, post-1992, North)
Some respondents stressed the desirability of making the progress and outcomes of sabbaticals more public, to students, staff and to the wider community, for example through the use of blogs, web pages, seminars and discussion boards:
"There should be greater transparency…I think it would be useful to students to know what people on sabbatical are doing, even if it is not in their teaching area. There was a colleague who was on sabbatical who set up a blog while he was away and this was open to students. Those sort of things help involve more people. There is no reason nowadays while people are away that they should not have some sort of reporting mechanism. It would increase interest and show what sorts of grants were available, for example. You could even provide information to the wider public...I think a sort of reflective requirement, separate from journal or book output, will be of interest to students in terms of conception of the research and the development of the idea and they can develop useful skills for example in preparing for project work and dissertations. They will look at the actual process and will feel more involved. There would be more understanding of what the university is which those working nine to five and students should know more about." (Senior Lecturer, male, post-1992, Midlands and East Anglia)
What became apparent in this and other comments was that academics were conscious of the public functions of universities and their responsibilities not only to students but also the community generally. There were different expectations from public and private universities:
"I view sabbaticals as (a) an opportunity to make a more concerted contribution to the life/trajectory of the University, and the individual, while (b) ensuring that this contribution is justifiable in terms of taxpayers who fund it. This would necessarily mean that a sabbatical policy could be different in a private university."(Professor, male, post-1992, London and South East)
A particular theme in terms of the public responsibility of universities brought up by two respondents was the contradiction between the 'lone scholar' nature of sabbatical leave and contemporary intellectual and economic requirement for interdisciplinarity. One respondent saw a problem in the differing sources of state funding:
"…in all social science subjects we will be pushed to work more collaboratively and this interdisciplinarity is a good thing. Single disciplinarity is now far too narrow. We are coming together much more. The government will not fund the same number of departments. We need to work in a different way. It is difficult because there are contrary pressures from the [RAE] and the funding councils. But it does raise the question of where to submit if there are subjects which run across departments. I see interdisciplinarity as the future. We are merging more and more into specialist units. This provides good value for money for the public…Academics are difficult people to persuade- they are bewilderingly ignorant about the industry they work in. They see themselves in the social sciences as lone scholars and independent people for whom the university is providing a congenial environment'. They do not see themselves as a sector of the economy." (Professor, male, pre-1992, Scotland).
In other words it is not simply the research/teaching link that is contested but the very boundaries of a discipline itself. A Senior Lecturer, (male, post-1992, Midlands and East Anglia), saw the current sabbatical as "very much a model of the individual researcher", which as he also saw was less appropriate for interdisciplinary projects. He thought a shorter more flexible model of study leave might be more beneficial.
Our survey demonstrated that law academics resist a mono-dimensional view of their working lives and a period of sabbatical leave raised both opportunities and obstacles to achieving this. One respondent, on the eve of taking a sabbatical, contemplated how she could accommodate her desire to developing her understanding of student learning alongside her enthusiasm for research. She did perceive a gradual shift in management attitudes:
"It is frustrating trying to juggle [teaching and research]. I feel I will never be excellent at either since it is impossible to be excellent at both. People like me are growing in numbers. Partly because of the PGCHE we have an interest in teaching. We are the first generation to feel the pressure of trying to excel in both. The management of the School are coming around to the idea that they need to invest in both." (Lecturer, female, pre-1992, Wales and South West)
Reference to institutional support for staff development in both teaching and research was made by one respondent, a former senior manager, who linked sabbaticals for staff in his School to strategic career planning:
"I would like all members to have research plans for three to five years monitored by the Head of Research, once or perhaps twice a year. Sabbaticals should be part of that overall plan…My view I that we do not do enough to mentor and support academics' careers. Our approach is often- just get on with it, Sometimes this is successful, sometimes not… Young academics in particular need to have an idea that their career needs to be planned, there should be expectations on both sides." (Professor, male, pre-1992, Scotland)
Management in some universities did foster an integrated academic identity:
"The university has got a well-rounded interest in teaching as well as research. That's one of the reasons I like it. Strategically, that's quite nice. It keeps the balance of research and teaching staff." (Professor, male, post 1992, Midlands and East Anglia)
The interview with this respondent revealed that where instances of good practice existed this helped generate a collegiate academic ethos. He told us "We don't have research only people- not juts research staff or just teaching, All the professors teach on the LLB. We don't have research and non-teaching staff. It is a deliberate policy." By contrast others suggested that excessive managerialism threatened trust and collegiality:
"When I first started teaching here, it was a fairly rough model. It just included teaching and marking and a bit of admin, but the expectation was that everyone would share out the admin jobs between us, so everyone would do one or two jobs each and you'd get fairly rough credits for teaching, and then it was all based on goodwill, that everyone pitches in. But now it's gone to such a formulaic, numeric approach, there's no goodwill anymore. So, to me, it seems like a model for a big business but we are a very small school. It seemed like what we did before worked but they wanted to centralise everything and have standardised systems across all the schools, so that they could see that a law academic does X and a chemistry academic does the same." (Lecturer, female, pre-1992, Midlands and East Anglia)
An added dimension to the investigation into sabbaticals was afforded by the responses to our emailed questions submitted by law academics who were holders of national teaching awards. Since the criteria for the award make it clear that holders are leaders in the fields of curriculum development, teaching methods and peer reviewed pedagogic research, it was thought they could provide valuable input on the perceived status of teaching excellence.
The two emailed questions to the award holders were:
"We are interested to hear if your award of ……..contained a paid sabbatical or study leave element, either directly or indirectly. If this is the case, please indicate any outcomes relevant to pedagogy or the curriculum."
"In your view should university law departments offer paid sabbaticals or study leave where the objective is predominantly the preparation of teaching materials and/or pedagogical development."
We obtained responses from six National Teaching Fellows and four Law Teachers of the Year (England and Wales) or Law Tutor of the Year (Scotland). The award holders are referred to here as AH, 1-10
It appears that most of the award holders did not regard a traditional sabbatical as a good way to use their awards. Only one of the ten respondents used it to finance sabbatical leave. One organised teaching cover a short period of leave including visits to universities abroad and another obtained "research remission in subsequent years" for updating a student textbook. The responses to the second question went some way to explain this lack of enthusiasm for using the teaching awards for sabbatical leave. It produced from these respondents a somewhat more nuanced approach to relevance of sabbatical leave for teaching purposes than we had elicited in the survey itself. Only one of the ten gave an unqualified "Yes" in response to question two. The "No" answers' from others were qualified. Three made it clear that they regarded pedagogic research as equally valuable as discipline research and sabbaticals should be available for both on the same terms. However, developing teaching methods or materials was best conducted through practice in the course of the teaching year. Explanations included:
"In my opinion excellence in teaching should be the priority of any university law school and in my law school the current scheme reflects this by limiting study leave to the pursuit of research projects. If it were proposed to grant study leave to develop teaching materials my concern would be that it might send out the message that excellence in teaching is not achievable within the standard time allotted to our roles as university teachers of law. I would also make the point that the best way to improve the delivery of taught courses is to teach them. If a law school is keen to encourage a lecturer the to develop or enhance a course to achieve a significant level of excellence and innovation, it might be appropriate to relieve that lecturer of the pressure to produce published research or to conduct administration, but to grant a period of paid leave would appear to me to be counter-productive. Study leave for developing pedagogical thought and practice is another matter…. I think study leave should be available (and believe that it is available) to scholars such as you who wish to research and develop teaching pedagogy and to disseminate their findings." (AW7)
Another response read:
"We embed curriculum development and pedagogy into staff work programmes, giving time for these developments alongside teaching duties which are naturally reduced. All our programmes contain teams of staff and our approach provides for collaborative development which ensures all staff contribute to the process and are fully engaged with the emerging pedagogies being adopted for that programme. Previous experience of development conducted on a more individual basis has not resulted in the appropriate cascade across the staff and programme." (AW4)
A related point was that development of teaching may be better made collectively.
"I do think that sabbatical opportunities should be as available for clearly proposed-teaching/learning developments or for pedagogical research as for conventional research. However, I recognise that much work in these fields is better conducted in regular contact with teams of colleagues and therefore that sabbaticals may not be the most effective form of relief." (AW6)
Another reply, stressing a point made by a number of respondents that staff who have programme and curriculum responsibilities may find it difficult to take leave, added "Although applications for sabbaticals should have equal consideration on research and/or teaching, the economic reality of the challenges ahead in HE is such that not all universities may be able to afford it". (AW10) One award –holder echoed the observation about strategic career planning made by the survey respondents:
"I have been building my pedagogical profile over the past coupe of years very actively and given some of my recent work is felt to be REF-able, there may be consideration to a sabbatical/bought out pedagogical activity in the future." (AW9)
This respondent also advocated that sabbatical time should be available for developing online or distance learning materials which was described as "pedagogy and development". This prompted a more general observation that. "The investment in teachers with ideas and knowledge about both theory and practice of the craft of teaching, and the potential to share as good practice their ideas on a local or global scale has not been given a high enough priority".
A number of the award –holders were published scholars in discipline based research and they echoed the views of the survey respondents, noted above, in emphasising how such research conducted in a period of sabbatical leave had impacted on their teaching. One articulated how he navigated the challenge to satisfy teaching and research demands:
"My research tends to feed naturally into my teaching: I have devised and teach two optional undergraduate courses which are directly linked to my research interests…I would rather use my precious study leave on the furtherance of primary research projects, which will subsequently inform my teaching. For example, I've just come to the end of two terms' study leave…In that time I have completed a monograph…The research carried out for this book will be of inestimable importance to one of the courses I teach… As far as teaching is concerned, that particular course will benefit more from my completing the book than it would if I had dedicated say one term to the preparation of teaching materials and/ or curriculum development." (AW5)
Both the survey responses and the views expressed by the national teaching award holders indicate that some law academics do perceive their research and teaching as a activities that have connections, even if indirectly, and that a sabbatical, awarded for discipline based research, may additionally contribute to the practice of teaching. This can be the case even in those institutions where senior management follow the agenda of an exclusive drive to maximise research productivity without reference to teaching. In other words our findings suggest the existence of a challenge to some at least of the current trends identified by Thornton. They tend to confirm Cownie's research which suggests that legal academics accord significant importance to their teaching role, whatever stance management took on this. Cownie (2004 p141) points out that this "….appeared to be independent of the value placed on teaching by the institutions in which they work." The evidence from the survey is that research active law academics are struggling to find ways to integrate sabbatical research into teaching. More specifically they aspire to gain recognition for pedagogic research. In order to facilitate these career aspirations it is suggested that Law School mangers and staff could usefully reflect on the following two areas.
A number of the respondents told us they kept the students in mind even when conducting disciplined based research during a period of sabbatical leave and gave examples of this. Although the term "research-lead teaching" (RLT) was only specifically cited by one out of the thirty two respondents the concept was impliedly central to the academic identity of many more. Its theoretical content was, however, not explained. In a recent study Carr and Dearden (2012 p 276) have explained how this concept, although, ill defined and not clearly articulated by academics they questioned, has the characteristics of a "vehicular idea" or "problem solving device". The relevant problem they define as "the increasing divide between research and teaching caused in part by the auditing of UK university research from 1986 and the consequent targeting of funding to research active institutions". They question whether RLT is "potentially valuable or dangerously vacuous" and indicate that there is a risk it will be adopted by those who advocate increased marketisation of universities and the discounting of the social benefit of higher education. Measureable outcomes of RLT, they claim, could be used for "product differentiation" of universities and thus increase stratification and competition. They also acknowledge however that "RLT reinvigorates student learning by imbuing it with the excitement of research, of new discoveries and new ways of thinking about problems. It can be a political project which resists the de- politicisation of neo-liberal strategies". In order for this to be achieved there must be a conscious effort "to pack RLT with meaning". They cite the Feminist Judgments Project as a successful example of an approach to RLT (Hunter et al 2010). It is the argument of this article that a strategy which harnessed creativity in the use of sabbatical leave may also make a contribution to defining and theorising the content of RLT.
One question raised is whether there is a need for institutional support for the grass roots kind of engagement which this survey has highlighted. The Australian academic Brew (2010) argues that it does. Giving an account of the extension of the integration of teaching and learning in the research intensive University of Sydney, she writes ( p142) "Institutional commitment is a key factor in the development of strong relationships between teaching and research". The need for support from the institution she identifies in two areas, namely "to enhance academics' understanding and use of inquiry-based learning approaches and to expand opportunities for undergraduates to participate actively in research within the curriculum" (p146). The evidence from the sabbatical survey which is the subject of this article suggests that leadership and support from senior university management in these areas would be welcome if it eschewed bureaucratic imposition in favour of harnessing and intellectualising in an atmosphere of collegiality the practices law academics are already adopting, albeit in an ad hoc way.
A second key area is the value accorded to pedagogic research. The House of Commons Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee in its eleventh Report (2009, para 175) recommended that one way of "easing tension between research and teaching could be achieved with greater emphasis on pedagogy and recognition of research into pedagogy". However the current definition of research as being based on discipline content frequently marginalises that into pedagogy (Halse et al 2007, Skelton 2004, Young 2006). In fact the position in regard to law is more favourable than in a number of disciplines, witness the existence of the Association of Law Teachers and its journal The Law Teacher, the flourishing state of the Legal Education Sections of the Society of Legal Scholars and the Socio-Legal Studies Association, and frequent articles on higher education policy and practice in journals such as Legal Studies and the Web Journal of Current Legal Issues. The survey results do make it clear that many academics differentiate teaching and curriculum development from peer reviewed pedagogic research. The point, articulated most forcefully by the national teaching award holders, was that the former was best advanced in the collective environment of the regular teaching year, rather than in a period of sabbatical leave. On the whole a sabbatical for the exclusive purpose of curriculum development was not advocated. Exceptions might be made for developing online materials and input into the curriculum could of course be made by the sabbatical holder conducting discipline based research. There was considerable support however for sabbatical leave being granted for research into higher education on the same basis as for discipline based research.
The above account of the UKCLE survey has illustrated some ways law academics have tried to incorporate a pedagogic dimension to their sabbatical leave. It is argued here that this is evidence of an assertion of agency on the part of law lecturers. Academics it seems are struggling to find ways of satisfying their professional desire to enhance student learning during and subsequent to sabbatical leave, often in the face of management obsession with conventional research output. The findings are in line with other studies which demonstrate innovative examples of the use of sabbatical leave. Esteal and Westmorland (2010), for example. have demonstrated an imaginative use of the sabbatical principle in their study of a "virtual sabbatical".(5) In the light of these challenges to a management imposed uniformity Thornton's perceptions of corporatist entrenchment in universities may perhaps present only a partial truth. Collier (2012 p11), citing Bradney (2003) and Cownie (2004), points out that Thornton's "… reading has understated the possibilities of individual and collective resistance to marketising imperatives; how, for example, notwithstanding, 'top-down' directions to change whether via restructured law degrees or new systems of audit, legal academics do not always do what they are told."
Higher education is currently subject to dramatic government directed innovation, for example in reduction of state funding, changes to student finance and in the assessment of research outputs. Morley (2012 p27) comments, "Policy priorities are not always commensurate with aspirations and desires of students and staff, and there are fears over the past decade that that universities are being reduced to delivery agencies for government-decreed outcomes…The delivery has demanded a degree of compliance and performativity that can stifle creative thinking." The sabbatical survey results have suggested that creativity is however still to be found in Law Departments, albeit more at the grassroots rather than management level. Staff expressed concern that teaching and research were becoming dichotomous, atomised and primarily individual activities. The findings demonstrate that university managements might do well to give more consideration to the wider functions of universities in devising strategies for research expansion, including the granting of sabbaticals. As Nixon (2012 p147) recommends. "Universities of the future will continue to have multiple responsibilities and academics will continue to be involved in a wide variety of practices relating to research, teaching and scholarship. Central to these responsibilities and practices, however, will be a commitment to providing all students with a space within which to develop capabilities necessary to flourish as receptive and critical learners" It is the argument of this article that law academics are receptive to a proposal to reserve part at least of this space during a period of sabbatical leave.
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(2) All respondents were guaranteed anonymity.
(3) The authors are grateful to all the respondents for taking the time to give their views.
(4) Healey and Jenkins (2009 p108) comment favourably on the requirement the US National Science Foundation introduced in the mid 1990s for 'research awards to include strong criteria to require research dissemination and undergraduate as well as postgraduate involvement'. The Foundation requires pedagogic impact to be a condition of grant awards.
(5) The authors give an account of the experience of an Australian academic who, while physically remaining at her home university, was able to create the practices of a traditional travel based sabbatical including staff discussions, seminar presences, library research etc, exclusively by online and web-based methods.