When students in the political science department returned to class on Aug. 22, they were greeted by a menagerie of new and familiar faces. But there were some very important faces they didn’t see. In an unusual occurrence, six of the department’s 21 faculty members are on leave.

These professors will make the most of their time off campus. Several will work on book manuscripts: Richard Dagger is writing about the politics of punishment and Republicanism and the rule of law, while Sandra Joireman writes about return migration and Jenny Pribble researches poverty and development in Chile, Colombia and Peru. 

Others will be far from campus — though some farther than others. Ernest McGowen will serve as visiting assistant professor of government at Georgetown this year, where he will specialize in race and ethnicity, while Monti Datta is living in Bangkok, Thailand, where he is studying human trafficking.

“I wanted to go beyond the numbers, spend time in a part of the world where human trafficking is highly prevalent and understand more of the humanity of the problem,” Datta said, adding that he will be teaching a year-long SSIR course on modern slavery next year.

Dan Palazzolo, the chair of the political science department, said that it was unusual to have so many faculty members on leave at the same time.

“Interestingly, they were hired in different years, but the cycle for eligible sabbaticals all hit on the same year,” he said.

In the interim, Palazzolo said that the department had hired visiting faculty and adjunct professors, such as Alex Keena, a UC Irvine graduate who will be teaching Campaigns and Elections and Intro to American Politics, Molla Reda, a former University of Minnesota lecturer who will teach International Relations and International Security, and John Lovett, a UNC graduate who will cover Public Policy courses and Intro to American Politics.

Brenden Carol, a senior majoring in political science, said the strange circumstances were not causing problems for students. The absence of professors has not limited the number of courses available, he said. But Carol did acknowledge that he would miss the faculty members.

"A few of them are professors I have grown close to over my four years," he said. "The loss of Dr. McGowen is particularly disappointing for me. He has been a kind of mentor to me and not being able to stop by and talk about the election or have a class with him in my final year feels like a loss."

Jennifer Erkulwater, who is using her sabbatical to study social justice movements between the 1960s and 1990s, said she was thankful for the opportunity to spend time with her family and engage with topics she is passionate about, though she understands Carol's disappointment.

"I realize it is hard on students when we go on sabbatical," Erkulwater said. "But I can’t tell you what a privilege it is to have the sustained time and space to spend with the questions that got me excited about being a scholar and a teacher in the first place."

Contact features editor Damian Hondares at damian.hondares@richmond.edu.