How to discuss contentious issues in class and what to do about generative A.I. — these are among the toughest questions facing higher ed faculty today. Luckily for NMC, two of our faculty are preparing to explore this territory on sabbatical leave next year, with plans to bring back guidance for the rest of us.

Dr. Melissa Sprenkle, Communications, and Dr. John Zachman, Social Science, have been approved for one-semester sabbaticals in Spring 2025. Melissa will research generative A.I. and literacy, and John will focus on benefits and best practices of teaching controversial issues.

Melissa says her scholarship has three goals: to research rhetorical and composition scholarship relating to generative A.I. and literacy theory; to better understand the purpose and function of A.I. in society; and to clarify how A.I. text generation affects student literacy and how writing instruction should adjust. As Melissa explains in her sabbatical proposal, “I would like to understand on a deeper ethical level how I can empower students to generate their own thinking and communicate it in their own writing effectively within the context of a world influenced by generative A.I. communications.”  

In addition to sharing her conclusions with her colleagues in Communications, Melissa says she will be able to help faculty in other disciplines through her work on writing intensive courses.

John explains that among the multiple goals for his sabbatical, he plans to research “how teaching controversial issues in the college classroom can be used as a model

for deliberation and engagement in democratic societies and political discourse more generally.”  In addition, by analyzing his own teaching and researching best practices of other instructors, he aims to create guidelines for faculty in a range of disciplines. Ultimately,John says, his project seeks to help instructors “encourage our students to be thoughtfully engaged with others in debates over which there can be strong disagreements while also maintaining mutual respect.”

Both John and Melissa will prepare for their sabbatical this spring and next fall. We appreciate their efforts and agree with the sentiments of President Nissley, who praised their projects. In an email approving their applications, Nick wrote, “I am surely looking forward to learning what you’ve learned, and the college growing along with you.” 

Judy Chu, Communications, is currently on a one-year sabbatical exploring the intersection of visual art and writing, along with DEIB-related projects. If you are considering a sabbatical for the 2025-26 academic year, you can learn more in the CIE Handbook and the Faculty Association Collective Bargaining Agreement.