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Perpetuating difference? Law school sabbaticals in the era of performativity

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This paper attempts to contribute to the increasing body of research on the working practices of legal academics and what has been called the ‘private life’ of the law school. It seeks to subject to further empirical investigation the analysis made by Collier, Cownie, McGlynn, Morley, Wells and others that the new corporate managerialism in universities has created a gendered regime of control and target setting. It examines one under-researched aspect of academic practice, namely the award of sabbaticals. The study draws on an examination of the practice of sabbatical leave by academic staff in both pre- and post-1992 university law schools. Although sabbaticals are widely assumed to be necessary for the effective development of research and scholarship, there has been little recent investigation of their operation in English universities. This is in contrast to the USA where a number of studies have been conducted. Sabbaticals are thus an aspect of the ‘donnish dominion’ which, although well covered in campus novels, is missing from researched surveys of university life. The paper reviews the relevant literature on sabbaticals, reports on the results of a study of the published criteria law schools have for awarding sabbaticals and analyses responses to a questionnaire sent to law school heads on the operation of their policies. Particular areas of interest are differing practices between universities, possible gender bias and the relevance of sabbaticals both to the teaching versus research debate and to an understanding of academics’ working lives more generally. The survey results suggest that the practical application of sabbatical policies demonstrates the ambivalent way managerialism operates in universities. Although performance targets are stipulated, the mechanism for enforcement in relation to sabbatical awards is surprisingly light or non-existent. It is argued that the use of sabbatical leave plays a part in defining both the status of university law schools and also the organisation of academic research. It thus impacts on the formation of the professional identities of legal academics. Those who are excluded from this benefit may be marginalised and areas of academic labour considered inappropriate for sabbaticals consequently regarded as secondary. This may entrench already existing areas of inequality.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Principal Lecturers in Law, Centre for Legal Research, Middlesex University

Publication date: 2007-12-01

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