Sabbatical, Research, and Other Leaves

The primary objective of the University’s leaves policies is to free its academic officers from their normal duties to conduct research, write, or otherwise engage in scholarly or professional activity. There are three types of faculty leaves for scholarly and professional purposes: sabbaticals, research leaves, and exemptions from teaching duties. In addition, faculty may take leaves for medical reasons, child care, military or public service, and compelling personal need. 

All faculty are expected to be in residence for at least two years of full-time service between leaves of any kind. All leaves and any exceptions must be approved by the Dean and the Provost to avoid interference with the staffing of curricular obligations.

For your specific leave report and other questions, please contact Claire Merrill at cmerrill@law.columbia.edu.

Sabbatical, Research, and Other Leaves

Each professor and associate professor with tenure is entitled to a sabbatical leave of one year at half base salary or a half year at full base salary after completing 12 terms of full-time teaching. Professors and associate professors with unmodified titles who have been awarded tenure of title following a University-wide ad hoc review enjoy a similar entitlement.

All terms of full-time teaching in a nontenured professorial rank, other than those with a visiting title, count toward a sabbatical. Periods of non-sabbatical leave, including partial leave, do not, nor does a term of full-time teaching during a year in which a professor takes a one-term sabbatical leave at full salary.

Faculty who take other types of leaves are expected to serve in a full-time capacity for at least two years before taking a sabbatical, regardless of the number of semesters of credit they may have accumulated. Exceptions require the prior approval of the department chair and the dean or vice president as well as the special permission of the Provost.

Tenured faculty may ask to advance their sabbatical leaves by up to one year to meet departmental needs or for compelling personal reasons. Such an arrangement requires the approval of the chair and dean or vice president as well as that of the Provost. Following an early sabbatical, terms of full-time teaching are credited first toward completing the 12-term requirement for that leave.

A sabbatical may be postponed with the prior approval of the chair and the dean or vice president. If it has not been taken by the end of the second year after it was originally due, only one year of teaching during the period of the postponement is ordinarily counted in determining eligibility for the next sabbatical. Exceptions to this policy are made in two circumstances:

  • when the postponement is required to meet the instructional or administrative needs of the department, school, or University, the entire period is counted toward the next sabbatical; and
  • professors who are eligible for a sabbatical immediately upon promotion to tenure may postpone it for one additional year without incurring a penalty, in recognition of their need for additional time in which to make sabbatical plans.

A professor may not teach or undertake any full-time employment at another institution during a sabbatical, since the primary purpose of such a leave is to provide an uninterrupted opportunity for research and intellectual refreshment. This restriction does not apply to a research position at another institution.

Upon joining the Law School, full-time tenured or tenure-track officers of instruction are entitled to a one-semester research leave after completing 6 terms of full-time teaching. For junior faculty hired on the tenure track, it is expected that the first research leave will be taken prior to being considered for tenure. Thereafter, full-time tenured officers of instruction at Columbia Law School are eligible for a one-semester research leave after completing 12 terms of full-time teaching, to be taken at the rough mid-point between sabbaticals. 

All research leaves must be approved by the dean, in consultation with the vice dean for curriculum. While on a research leave, faculty are exempted from their teaching duties but are otherwise expected to remain in residence, and available for committee service and to advise students. 

Exemptions from teaching duties (ETDs) are granted for periods during which a professor is receiving salary from the University but is excused, in full or in part, from teaching and other responsibilities. An ETD is appropriate when an external agency gives the University funding to free up a faculty member to conduct research or a school provides support for a paid research leave. An ETD may be partial or full, depending on the percentage of normal responsibilities performed and the amount of salary received.

The restrictions on leaves of absence for scholarly purposes also apply in the case of ETDs. They are usually granted only to faculty in a professorial rank, excluding those with a visiting title, and may be taken only when they do not interfere with the instructional program of the faculty member’s department or school.

Since professors receive salary from the University during an ETD, all their benefits are continued, although pension contributions, which are based on a percentage of salary, will be reduced if they receive less than their normal pay.

Full-time officers of instruction who cannot perform their responsibilities because of illness or injury are given leaves of absence with full salary for up to six months from the onset of the disability. If the disability continues for a longer period of time, the faculty member should apply to the University’s insurance carrier for long-term disability. If approved, he or she is given a medical leave without salary and may receive a portion of his or her salary from the University’s insurance carrier according to the terms of the University’s long-term disability program. Officers who are able to perform some of their normal responsibilities will be given a leave of absence with partial salary that may be supplemented with prorated disability payments from the insurance carrier.

Information on the long-term disability program may be obtained from the annual publication Benefits in Brief, which can be accessed through a link on the web site of the Office of Human Resources at www.hr.columbia.edu/hr/benefits/page-section.html or by contacting a counselor in that office.

The first 12 weeks of medical leave, with or without salary, are deemed to meet the requirements of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (see “FMLA Leaves,” below).

A faculty member requesting a leave of absence for medical reasons is expected to provide documentation from a physician specifying the nature and anticipated duration of the disability. Faculty may submit this documentation to their department chair or dean. If they wish to keep information about their disability confidential, they can direct it to the Manager of the Return to Work Program in the Office of Human Resources who will advise the dean or vice president and the Provost on how long the faculty member will be unable to perform his or her normal responsibilities. The University, at its expense, may have the individual examined by a physician of its choosing if there is any question about whether a disability exists.

The University, at its expense, may also require a faculty member to undergo a medical examination by a physician of its choice when the individual contests the existence of a disability that prevents the performance of his or her academic duties. Should the physician confirm that the faculty member is disabled, the University reserves the right to relieve the officer of all responsibilities.

A faculty member who wishes to return to active service after recovering from a disabling illness or injury should submit a letter from a physician stating that he or she is physically capable of returning to work. If special working arrangements are needed for the individual to return from the disability, the physician should also specify the nature of the accommodations required. This information may be submitted, at the faculty member’s discretion, to either the department chair or dean or to the Manager of the Return to Work Program in the Office of Human Resources. The University may have the individual examined by a physician of its choice before agreeing to the reinstatement.

The appropriate department chair, dean, or vice president may notify a nontenured faculty member at any point during a period of disability that his or her appointment will not be renewed after the end of the leave of absence, provided that the leave extends beyond the minimum period specified by the University Statutes for notice of nonrenewal (see “Termination,” below). Such notice is given in writing. In the absence of a letter of nonrenewal, a nontenured faculty member will be returned to active service at the end of a medical leave.

Full-time faculty may take advantage of several types of leaves that are designed to assist them in taking care of newborn and newly adopted children. Medical leaves for childbirth and full or partial leaves for child care are described below. The University’s workload relief plan is discussed in the next section of this chapter.

The University treats disabilities arising from pregnancy and childbirth like any other nonoccupational disability. A pregnant officer is entitled to a medical leave of absence for the period surrounding the birth of her child during which her doctor certifies that she is unable to work. The officer receives full salary and benefits under the University’s salary continuation plan if the period of leave is six months or less. If the officer is disabled for a longer duration, she should apply to the University’s insurance carrier for long-term disability. If approved, she is placed on a medical leave of absence without salary and the University’s long-term disability carrier starts to make payments equal to a portion of her salary. As with other medical leaves, the University reserves the right to have the officer seen by a physician of its own choosing.

Full-time faculty with newborn infants may take a leave of absence without salary to care for the children. They may also teach a reduced course load on a partial leave of absence for that purpose. Similar privileges are given to full-time faculty who are primarily responsible for the care of a newly adopted child of less than school age, or if the child is disabled or meets New York State’s legal definition of “hard to place,” is less than 18 at the time the leave begins. Same-sex domestic partners of women who give birth and of individuals who adopt are also eligible for these leaves.

Parental leaves must begin within the first year after the birth or adoption of the new child but may end after it is over. The total period of leave, including the time during which a faculty member who has given birth is on a medical leave, normally may not exceed one year. Exceptions are permitted in cases of extended disabilities arising from pregnancy and childbirth.

The first 12 weeks of any child care leave, including medical leaves required by pregnancy and childbirth, are deemed to be leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) as described below.

Faculty members are expected to request medical leaves for childbirth and child care leaves sufficiently early to permit their departments and schools to plan for their absence. A faculty member who will give birth should provide written documentation from her physician stating the anticipated duration of the disability. If the actual period of disability differs from the original projection of her physician, she should submit new documentation from her physician so that the medical leave can be changed. She may, at her discretion, submit the information on her disability to her department chair or dean or to the Manager of the Return to Work Program in the Office of Human Resources. If she chooses the latter, she still needs to ask for the leave from her department chair or dean and should indicate in her request that the documentation on the disability has been sent to the Manager of the Return to Work Program.

If the total period of child care leave, including medical leaves required by pregnancy and childbirth, is at least two months in length, the Provost’s Office will exclude the term in determining the maximum period of time a nontenured faculty member may serve in a full-time instructional capacity at the University. The faculty member does not need to ask for the exclusion. In the case of tenured faculty, the period of leave does not contribute toward establishing sabbatical eligibility.

In spring 1994, the University Senate adopted a resolution recommending that the deans and vice presidents adopt a parental workload relief plan for members of their full-time faculty who become new parents. The Faculties on the Morningside campus, but not at the Medical Center, have all adopted the workload relief plan.

There are three eligibility requirements for workload relief in addition to holding an appointment in a Faculty that has adopted the plan. An officer must

  1. be a full-time officer of instruction;
  2. hold an appointment with one of the following titles:
    • professor, associate professor, or assistant professor, including those with the clinical or practice modifier but excluding those in a visiting rank;
    • instructor; or
    • senior lecturer, lecturer, or associate, including those with the modifier “in (discipline)” provided that the faculty member has taught full-time at the University in one of those two ranks for at least two years; and
  3. be primarily responsible for the care of a newborn child or a newly adopted child of less than school age or if the child is disabled or meets New York State’s legal definition of “hard-to-place,” less than 18 at the time the leave begins. For the purpose of this policy, an officer is the “primary parent” if he or she is a single parent or, where there are two parents, if the other is working full-time or is enrolled as a full-time student. Faculty may employ a day-care provider and still qualify as the primary parent. When both parents work at the University, only one may be considered the primary parent at any given time.

Eligible faculty members may receive workload relief for one term at full salary or one year at half salary. The period of workload relief must begin within the first year after the birth or adoption of the new child but may continue beyond that year. During the period selected, faculty are excused from teaching and from serving on administrative committees. They are, however, expected to make themselves available for consultations with students and to continue their research. Eligible faculty may also elect a year of workload relief at full salary by agreeing to teach half of their normal course load in each term and continuing to make themselves available for a comparable portion of the administrative assignments they normally perform as well as continuing to meet with students and conduct research.

While on workload relief, faculty are not permitted to accept assignments, either with or without compensation, outside the University.

The workload relief plan is designed to replace the combination of medical and/or child care leaves for individuals who meet their eligibility requirements. However, eligible faculty may still elect to take those leaves rather than ask for workload relief if they wish, for example, to provide no service while taking care of their new children.

If workload relief is not preceded by other periods of leave covered by the FMLA, the first 12 weeks are deemed to meet the requirements of that Act.

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) gives certain full- and part-time employees of the University the right to unpaid leave to deal with the following:

  1. the birth, adoption, or foster placement of a child;
  2. a medical disability;
  3. a serious illness of a spouse, child, or parent; or
  4. a qualifying exigency, as defined by the federal Department of Labor, arising from a spouse, child, or parent serving on or being called to active military duty.

An eligible employee with a family member in the military is entitled to 26 weeks of FMLA leave. The maximum period of FMLA leave for other purposes is 12 weeks in any 12-month period.

To be eligible for an FMLA leave, faculty must have been employed and paid by the University for at least 12 months immediately preceding the commencement of the leave. In addition, they must have provided at least 1,250 hours of service during that 12-month period. Any compensated employment – regardless of title and including periods on the casual payroll – counts in determining if the officer meets these requirements. Leaves with salary also count, but those without salary do not.

The leaves full-time faculty may take under University policies for the purposes covered by the FMLA are considerably more generous than those required by the Act, with the exception of certain benefits provisions. Consequently, the University considers the first 12 weeks of any such leave as fulfilling the requirements of the Family and Medical Leave Act, except for leaves arising from a family member’s military service in which case it counts for the first 26 weeks.

A further description of the Family and Medical Leave Act and the University’s policies and procedures for implementing its provisions may be obtained from the web page of the Office of Human Resources at www.hr.columbia.edu/hr/policies/ fmla/fmla/index.html or by contacting one of its counselors.

Full-time faculty are entitled to leaves of absence to fulfill their military obligations under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994. Part-time faculty are also entitled to these leaves if they meet the eligibility requirements specified in the Act. During the first 15 days of such leave each year, the faculty member receives full salary. Thereafter, they are placed on a leave without salary. For information on the policies governing military leaves, officers should consult with a counselor in the Office of Human Resources.

Full-time faculty are also granted leaves for public service. These leaves are granted for up to 12 months at a time and do not extend for more than two years in duration. Extensions beyond the two-year maximum require the prior special permission of the Provost and are rarely granted.

Full-time members of the special instructional faculty – senior lecturer, senior lecturer in (discipline), lecturer, lecturer in (discipline), associate, associate in (discipline), and assistant – and faculty with “clinical” in their titles – professor of clinical, associate professor of clinical, assistant professor of clinical, clinical professor, associate clinical professor, and assistant clinical professor – may apply for personal leaves of absence for professional development. Such leaves are granted only when their purposes are directly related to the officer’s instructional or clinical responsibilities. Full-time faculty in a professorial rank ordinarily may not take a leave to enroll in an educational program.

Full-time faculty may request a leave of absence without salary to deal with a compelling personal need. Faculty who take such leaves to care for seriously ill family members are entitled under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 to at least 12 weeks of unpaid leave, subject to the requirements described below under “FMLA Leaves.” Longer periods of leave for that purpose and all other types of personal leave are granted at the discretion of the Provost on the recommendation of the appropriate department chair, dean, or vice president. Personal leaves are generally limited to a maximum of one year, but the Provost may authorize extensions on the recommendation of the department chair, dean, or vice president.