Arts & Sciences’ Competitive Fellowship Leave program ‘dramatic change for the better’

Allows more flexibility for humanities, social sciences faculty to go after prestigious fellowships

While all Arts & Sciences faculty at Washington University in St. Louis are encouraged to seek and accept competitive fellowship awards to advance their research, successful applicants in the humanities and social sciences may find it means having to use up sabbatical time or forego a portion of their pay.

Gary S. Wihl, PhD, dean of the faculty of Arts & Sciences and the Hortense and Tobias Lewin Distinguished Professor in the Humanities, recognized the problems inherent in accepting some of the more prestigious and highly competitive fellowships and last year instituted a Competitive Fellowship Leave program, which allows humanities and social sciences faculty members to minimize the unintended negative consequences of accepting competitive fellowships.

“The nice feature of the new policy is that rather than counting against your future sabbatical, grants now simply go to time off for research and writing,” says Corinna Treitel, PhD, associate professor of history in Arts & Sciences.

Treitel took advantage of the program when applying for a Fellowship for University Teachers from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for her research project titled “Natural: A German History.”

“The university ‘tops up’ the grant to your normal salary, and you still get sabbatical when you are officially up for it,” Treitel says. “Dean Wihl’s revision of the old leave policy certainly made it very attractive to apply for the NEH, and I may not have done so without it.”

The policy is intended to promote application for and receipt of fellowships made by prestigious and highly competitive national or international programs.

“Promoting academic excellence in the humanities is a priority for Arts & Sciences,” Wihl says. “We have a large number of superb scholars across the humanistic disciplines, and we need to develop policies that will ensure their development.

“I’m pleased with the immediate response to this new policy, and I am confident that in the coming years we will see even greater innovation and achievement in the humanities at Washington University.”

Through the new policy, Arts & Sciences will attempt to ensure that the faculty member receives 100 percent of the full-time academic year salary during the period of the fellowship. Arts & Sciences will match up to one-to-one the amount provided by the granting agency or host institution, but the faculty member’s base pay rate cannot be exceeded.

If the one-to-one matching formula does not meet the base rate of salary, consideration will be given on an individual basis for requests to exceed the one-to-one match. In cases where a greater than one-to-one match is requested, the excess will be considered as an early sabbatical leave, with the sabbatical leave clock to be reset upon completion of the competitive fellowship.

As with all leaves, health/dental, life insurance and dependent tuition benefits will continue. For eligible employees, retirement annuity and Social Security contributions will be maintained for the portion of the salary paid by the university.

“I think one of the great advantages of the new competitive leave policy is that it enables one to apply for external competitive fellowships at the time when it makes the most sense for the completion of a project, rather than having to wait until one is due for a sabbatical,” says Matthew Erlin, PhD, associate professor of German in Arts & Sciences.


Erlin used the program when applying for a Fellowship for University Teachers from the NEH for his research project on “Necessary Luxuries: German Literature and the World of Goods, 1770-1815.”

“I was not eligible for a leave for two years, but my book project is at a stage where a year of dedicated research and writing should allow me to finish it,” Erlin says. “Thanks to the competitive leave policy, I am able to follow a schedule dictated by my research rather than one dictated by a one-size-fits-all sabbatical cycle.”

Lori Watt, PhD, assistant professor of history and of international & area studies, both in Arts & Sciences, says the policy is a “dramatic change for the better.”


“The new competitive leave policy instituted under Gary Wihl’s leadership made a big difference for me in applying for grants,” Watt says. “It was good to know for sure that I would be able to take a research leave upon receiving a major fellowship. That strengthened my sense that my department, my program and the college support my research goals.”

Watt recently was among 12 recipients out of 196 applicants of a Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowship for 2011-12 by the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS). The fellowship is funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

She will conduct archival research in Japan, Korea and Micronesia while writing a history of the immediate post-World War II population transfers in East Asia. The title is “The Allies and the Decolonization of the Japanese Empire.”

When Anne Margaret Baxley, PhD, associate professor of philosophy in Arts & Sciences, applied for — and won — an ACLS Rsykamp fellowship in 2009, the Competitive Fellowship Leave policy wasn’t in place yet.


But because she had deferred accepting the fellowship until 2011-2012, she now will be able to take advantage of the policy.

“While the policy didn’t impact my decision to apply, it certainly has made it easier to plan the year off,” says Baxley, who will research a book project on Immanuel Kant’s views about happiness and its role in his ethics.

“And I’ll be more likely to apply for similar research opportunities in the future, knowing that the university is fully committed to supporting faculty endeavors in securing these competitive grants and fellowships,” she says.

For more information on the policy and to apply, visit