Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Jim Keeshen's Fall 2003 Sabbatical

Also in dispute between Santa Monica College and us are documents supporting the SMC sabbatical granted to Professor Jim Keeshen in the Fall Semester 2003. According to SMC's guidelines, a report by Professor Keeshen was supposed to be filed within 60 days of the completion of the sabbatical. It is almost two years later and Sammis confirmed that Professor Keeshen never filed a sabbatical report. Additionally, Sammis is refusing to provide us with Professor Keeshen's sabbatical application, claiming that this document is confidential as it is contained in his personnel file. Yet, other SMC professors published their sabbatical applications and reports online, thus waiving an alleged privilege of confidentiality.

Let's examine Professor Jim Keeshen's sabbatical a bit further. According to the SMC's Academic Personnel Summary, Jim Keeshen, under Design Technology, did receive a sabbatical during Fall Semester 2003. The June 11, 2002 SMC online article from The Whistler entitled Students Benefit from Teacher Sabbaticals (written by Isabelle Gan) states the following:

Are sabbaticals the much longed-for respite from teaching classes? It may sound suspiciously like a semester-long vacation for faculty members. But in reality, the sabbatical is actually a chance for professors to pursue other academic interests while still receiving a paycheck from the college.

How much money did Professor Keeshen receive for his sabbatical? According to SMC Administrative Regulation Section 3000, Human Resources, AR 3215 (6), "Sabbatical leaves shall count toward salary schedule step movement and retirement, and additional health and welfare." Professor Keeshen's annual salary from SMC was $89, 590 prior to the his taking the sabbatical. Beginning Fall Semester 2003, his salary increased to a whooping $93, 874! So, it appears it is financially beneficial to the SMC professors to secure a sabbatical for themselves.

The Whistler article adds:
As the semester draws to a close, members of the SMC community can look forward to a fresh influx of new ideas from these faculty members. After all, that’s what the sabbatical is designed to do, to provide a platform for further growth. Frank Dawson, a member of the Sabbatical and Fellowship Committee, explains that the program is there to provide benefit for all parties involved. “We look at three things when approving an application for sabbatical. It has to benefit the school, its students, and the professional career of the faculty member involved,” he said.

Was Jim Keeshen's sabbatical a semester-long vacation for him or did his sabbatical in fact benefit the SMC community at large? Let's look at the terms of his sabbatical. According to SMC's Professional Development page which outlines sabbaticals by intended purpose, Jim Keeshen took a sabbatical under the guise of "Independent Research/Creative Project /Field Study" which is defined as "Scholarly research, a creative project or a field study project of a scope or nature not permitted by a normal workload assignment."

Let's go into more detail by viewing a summary of Professor Jim Keeshen's Fall 2003 Sabbatical. SMC's Sabbatical Applications and Reports webpage provides the following summary:

Jim Keeshen – Academy of Entertainment & Technology (Fall 2003): This sabbatical will enable Prof. Keeshen to enter into a unique internship with the animation studio of Klasky Csupo. As part of this internship, Prof. Keeshen will work closely with CEO Terry Thorne and will be able to see first hand how a large animation studio works on the business as well as creative level. Prof. Keeshen expects that the outcome will create greater opportunities for students in SMC’s AET program to network and develop professional relationships with animation artists, directors and human resource personnel.

Notice that on this page, several other SMC professors provide links to their sabbatical applications and reports thus lending proof to our contention that these reports and applications are in fact not protected from any sort of confidentiality. Additionally, Professor Keeshen allegedly obtained public funding for his sabbatical in order to "create greater opportunities" for SMC's AET students. As an AET student, am I not entitled to learn how his sabbatical benefited me as a student? I think so.

The 2004 SMC Accreditation Self-Study supports the contention under Standard I-A Mission that "Criteria for awarding sabbaticals and fellowships and for allocating the College’s Vocational and Technical Education Act (VTEA) Title I-C funds to various vocational programs include assessing the applicants’ ability to demonstrate that the proposed projects are responsive to the College’s mission and goals. For example, sabbatical applicants are asked to describe how their sabbatical proposals support the mission and goals of the College." The webpage discusses the limited funds available to the college and that "The Academic Senate Joint Sabbaticals and Fellowships Committee is revising the process by which it reviews sabbatical applications to ensure that the merits of each candidate are assessed in an equitable manner." So, did Professor Keeshen's sabbatical application / proposal address the school's mission and goals? Only his application will provide these answers. Absent this public record and his report, the SMC community can only be left in the dark if the limited funds were in fact used to benefit the school.

How does a professor apply for a sabbatical? According to SMC's Sabbatical FAQ page, here's some helpful information I excerpted:

7. How can I view sample proposals? Please contact Erica LeBlanc at ext. 4227 to review past proposals.

8. Who judges my proposal? The committee members meet to evaluate proposals during the middle of the spring semester. All items on the sabbatical application are expected to be answered fully.

13. What am I expected to do upon completion of my sabbatical? Faculty are expected to provide the committee with four copies of a report summarizing professional experiences and activities within 60 days of return to duty. Sample reports are available by contacting Erica LeBlanc. In the spirit of shared benefit to the college community, sabbatical recipients have also made brief presentations of their semester’s experiences to other faculty at workshops and during flex day activities as well as to the Board of Trustees during their monthly meetings.

So, where are these reports filed? Again, SMC Administration Regulation Section 3000, AR 3215 (11) explains, "Distribution of the summary report will be as follows: one copy will be forwarded to the Superintendent/President and Board of Trustees; one copy will be forwarded to the Staff Development Committee; and one copy will be placed in the instructor's permanent file." So, it is clear that submission of the Sabbatical Report by Professor Keeshen was mandatory and that he did not in fact comply with his obligations under the terms of the sabbatical.

So, what happens if a professor does not comply? AR 3215 (12) states that "failure to substantially complete any sabbatical program... shall be considered a breach of contract by the Board of Trustees and the faculty member will be required to repay to the District all District funds received while on sabbatical leave." So, by failing to file the required sabbatical report within the mandated time frame, did Professor Jim Keeshen in fact breach his contract by failing to complete his sabbatical? Absent this report, will we ever know? Absent this last crucial step, should Jim Keeshen be now obliged, almost two years later, to return the funds paid to him back to the district? I will leave this to you to decide.

However, I will ask you to keep this in mind: the ASPP Report states that "Ten faculty members have been awarded semester-long, full-salary sabbaticals" for 2003-2004, with Jim Keeshen from Design Technology as one of the professors nominated by the joint faculty-administrative Academic Senate committee. "The sabbaticals awards, called for in the current faculty contract with the college, will cost SMC an estimated $180,000." If we do the math, and the funds were divided equitably, that's $18,000 per professor!

With this amount of money already allegedly paid by our limited district funds, it is too much to ask to make our professors accountable to our students and to the mission and goals set out by our beloved school? Should some of the faculty be held accountable for their sabbatical proposals and others not? Should some professors fail to comply with the rules while others submit well-written reports? I don't think so. Accountability is the factor that determines whether we, the public, are in fact paying dearly for what "The Whistler" appropriately termed the "semester-long vacation" for some Santa Monica College faculty members.

-- Des Manttari
Phoenix Genesis

(c) 2005: Phoenix Genesis/MBS LP

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