Blog 561 Faculty Professional Sabbaticals

Last one on Sabbaticals (at least for now)!!!

Well, when I get on a tangent, I keep going!!!

First, the “unplugged” day, then the idea of a ‘sabbath’ day of rest; then a Sabbatical for all employees – now finally more of the concept of an Academic Sabbatical – but maybe in a new and vital way.

Let me call it “The Professional Sabbatical” (or, a “faculty internship”).

Many years ago (about 28 years), in March, I realized I didn’t have any work lined up for the upcoming summer.  I had stepped out of academic administration, had finished my doctorate, wasn’t teaching any summer classes, didn’t have any summer grants or work.  (Sounds good doesn’t it). EXCEPT – my wife reminded me, that with none of the above activities there was no income!!! As my life changed from academic administration to ‘just’ a faculty member, my salary went from a 12 month salary to a 9 month salary.  Somehow my wife and family liked to eat in the summer (and my garden wasn’t that big and didn’t have any meat!!); plus the bank liked to receive a monthly mortgage payment on schedule (plus the other expenses of life).

So, after a couple of well done pokes in my side by my wife; I looked for a job.

With a couple of calls to friends at Citibank, I ended up with a “Faculty Internship”.  And, that was FANTASTIC. I spent twelve summers at Citibank.

So, what was so good.  Let’s see.

I had my education – I had written a dissertation – I had written articles about information systems education – I had attended information systems conferences – BUT – I really didn’t KNOW information systems!!

There is a difference between academic knowledge and ‘real world’ knowledge.  I knew the theory but didn’t know the reality of information systems and of business.  In that first summer, I remember (and wish I had saved it) a memo that had three short paragraphs.  The first paragraph (from the users) said “we are happy you are doing a project for us”; the second paragraph said “we have some questions”; and the third paragraph said (in pleasant terms) “we aren’t sure this is a good project for our needs”.  

I found that dealing with users/customers is the reality of business.  In the group where I was working, we had real people who were going to use the system(s) we were developing.  In most cases, they didn’t care what language or platform the system was going to be on, but was the project going to work, and was the project going to help them do their work, and (ultimately) was the project good for the business.  The project could have all the bells and whistles possible, but if it didn’t help them do their jobs, it was worthless to them.

I learned that I need to think of my customers in my work.  

Now that meant I had to change my attitude.  My “customers” (also known as ‘stakeholders’) from late August to early May were students.  They had parents who really wanted their children to get a good education (and good jobs); they also had their goals – mostly for the “American Dream” – get a good job, get a good life, get marriage, buy a house (or – go into debt with a mortgage), have children and have a good life!!!

I had learned Fortran and Pascal (and other programming languages), but those languages weren’t being used.  But, I knew those languages and could teach them – but the students weren’t going to get jobs with them. In those years, the students who went to big financial areas needed to know Cobol and JCL (Job Control Language).  So, I taught Cobol and JCL. I moved into teaching Systems Analysis and Design – or as I think of it: problem solving and critical thinking!!!

And, I learned that while academics will take weeks (or semesters) debating a little policy change (like returning students who hadn’t graduated – should they be forced to retake some courses), businesses needed decisions – NOW so they could implement them TOMORROW.  I learned the word “satisficing” (being “good enough”) was preferred over “perfection”.

I learned that competitive advantages in technology were short-lived.  A new, super efficient billing system would give competitive advantage for a few months until some other company created a better system.  

I learned that if you stood still in business, you were really losing ground as compared to your competitors.  Stagnation is death in business.

Every summer I went back, I learned more about that ‘real world’; and every year as I went back to the classroom in the fall, I tried to incorporate new ‘real’ activities into the classroom – new activities that focused on reality and on critical thinking and problem solving.

SO – what does this really mean?

I URGE (yes URGE – I’d like to have the power to require this), academics to go back to real world jobs periodically.  The accountant professor should have to DO accounting some times, the marketing person needs to work for a marketing company periodically.  

I know academics who have a PhD – but have NEVER really worked outside of the academic world.  Now this requires a lot of coordination between the academic and the real-world. Businesses need to ‘hire’ faculty-interns like they hire student-interns – and to give them real world projects, not just ‘make work’ projects.  The academics need to show up at 8 in the morning and work until at least 5:00 like real people do (not just show up for my 9:00 class, and leave campus after my 2:00 to 2:50 p.m. class).

Now this almost smacks of being ‘vocational’.  The academy is an “ivory tower”, don’t expect me to teach real world situations.  I know of too many students with degrees in philosophy or art – that get low level jobs in libraries or museums.  (Don’t get me wrong, there are good jobs in libraries and museums). But, think of the stakeholders – the parents who want their children to get good jobs; the students who want good-lives; (and the governments who want people to have good jobs and pay good income tax amounts and good property taxes!!)

If you are an academic reading this – think about how you can do a ‘faculty internship’.  In these days, you can do most of the work from home (even from a farm Lynette!!).

If you are in a business setting, think about how you could use a ‘faculty intern’ – helping them get the skills so the students you hire have a ‘real-world’ orientation and critical thinking and problem solving skills.  (And, realize that although you are paying the faculty member for this ‘work’ experience you are really just paying it forward towards the future employees that will be taking classes from this person.)

What do you think?  Am I off base on this?


Posted by Bruce White

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