Dahl's paid leave incites controversy, conversation

President Christopher Dahl’s announcement of his paid pre-retirement leave, which began on Tuesday Oct. 1 and will continue until his official retirement in June 2014, inspired discourse inside and outside of the Geneseo campus community. While administrators referred to this leave as a “sabbatical,” it is technically a Title F Leave under the policies of the State University of New York Board of Trustees.

According to Article XIII, Title F (1) of the official policy, “the chief administrative officer may grant other leaves of absence at full salary, or reduced salary, or without salary” to professional employees, academic employees or other professional staff under the stipulation that their leave involves professional development, consulting or other endeavors that are consistent with the needs of the University. These applications may require leave proposals to be submitted to the SUNY Chancellor for approval.

According to Dahl, the difference between a sabbatical and a Title F Leave is that a Title F leave does not require that the faculty member or administrator return to the University after their leave, whereas a sabbatical requires that they bring their knowledge back after their absence.

According to Interim President Carol Long, SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher approved Dahl’s leave proposal under the condition that he would engage in three different work assignments.

The first of these assignments pertains to his capacity as a working member of the English department and involves three separate scholarly projects. These include continuation of his longtime autobiographical research on Virginia Woolf’s family, a series of essays based on the meaning of liberal arts in the public college setting and an intellectual biography of Presbyterian clergyman Ezra Stiles Ely, a religious and political controversialist during the Andrew Jackson era and Dahl’s great-great-grandfather.

The second assignment places Dahl in an advisory capacity for both Long and Zimpher.

“He is the longest serving president in the SUNY system,” Long said. “There are a lot of interim presidents in the system right now … There is a lot of work within the system that the chancellor can call on Dahl to do for and with her. He is a valuable resource.”

Dahl’s third work assignment includes advancement work, such as attending alumni receptions and fundraisers as well as working with major donors. According to Dahl, his October schedule alone includes attending alumni events in Rochester, N.Y., Washington, D.C. and New York City.

According to Long, Dahl is 20 years overdue for a leave of absence; the SUNY Board of Trustees policy allows administrators a six-month leave after five years and a yearlong leave after 10 years.

“Let’s not talk about the [money] that people say he is getting for doing nothing,” Long said. “Let’s talk about the millions of dollars of work he has done without pay throughout the years. Dahl has been in this position for 20 years and has never taken a sabbatical.”

According to Dahl, discourse circulating that assumes that he is attempting to take advantage of the SUNY system by taking his paid pre-retirement leave is “factually incorrect” and “betrays an utter lack of understanding of the mission and purposes of higher education.”