NKU preserves professors' sabbatical projects

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS — Northern Kentucky University is preserving professors' treasured sabbatical programs, even in the face of budget woes.

Regents at NKU last week approved 19 sabbatical projects, 10 project grants and 15 summer fellowships for the 2011-12 academic year. The projects will cost NKU about $150,000 a year, plus temporary replacement costs for those on sabbatical.

But for professors, the sabbaticals represent something that is priceless.

"This undivided time is the difference between being exhausted and being a really effective university teacher," visual arts professor Barbara Houghton told The Kentucky Enquirer.

Houghton spent the spring 2010 semester in India, photographing women in all walks of life in India.

Sabbaticals offer college professors a chance to immerse themselves in academic research without the daily duties of grading papers, advising students and serving on committees.

At NKU, professors may apply for a sabbatical every seven years. They may take a semester at full pay or a full year at two-thirds pay. Those terms are typical for most colleges, which also offer summer fellowships and project grants.

Houghton said when she returned to NKU, she put together an exhibition of her photographs. She told regents she took about 4,500 photographs, even though her equipment was stolen during a train ride.

"I was allowed to meet the women who are going to make a change in India," she said. "That's the part that's really important."

Another NKU professor, microbiologist Hazel Barton, will produce at least one paper from her spring 2010 sabbatical helping eliminate micro-organisms on the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft that could potentially contaminate another environment.

That included analysis of everything from the cleaning agents to the paint on the walls.

"Those organisms can spread to other planets," Barton said. "Imagine the kudzu of Mars. We're trying to stop the kudzu of Mars."

She also traveled to China, where she explored caves, her specialty. That included one chamber with a 1,200-foot ceiling, big enough to support its own cloud system.