Resistance, Creativity and Law School Sabbaticals

Maureen Spencer, Penelope Kent



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. ↵↵

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