"The question I am investigating is a very sensitive one,” he points out. “The ‘Untouchable’ population of India is about 15 percent of the total Indian populace of over 1 billion and they continue to labor, especially in rural areas, under a series of major social, economic and political disadvantages. Both a national and an international campaign are under way to brand ‘casteism’ as a form of racism, which is universally seen as a denial of basic human rights."
"It was an unparalleled opportunity to talk directly with people about how they make choices about their faith, what specific practices they engage in and how they raise children in a world that sometimes makes religion difficult."
Academic couple - avowedly 'Type A'- defy sabbatical stereotype in their year abroad
By Sue Wuetcher
But two senior UB faculty members are evidence that sabbaticals, officially the leave granted a professor every seventh year, can prove to be even more rigorous—and fulfilling—than life on campus. The husband-and-wife team of scholars says the sabbatical enriches their teaching and research, as well as their personal development, while providing valuable, uninterrupted time for writing.
Claude Welch, SUNY Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Political Science, and Jeannette Ludwig, associate professor of French in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, are in the midst of a whirlwind sabbatical in Europe and Asia that would tax a graduate student half their ages. UB Today caught up with them via e-mail from India and the Netherlands.
Welch and Ludwig started their sabbaticals in early June 2000 in Geneva, Switzerland. While in Geneva-the locus of much U.N. human-rights activity-Welch started to work on a new book manuscript that examines the effectiveness of human-rights organizations like Amnesty International and Anti-Slavery International. The book, he notes, is a follow-up to one he wrote on human-rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in sub-Saharan Africa while on his last sabbatical leave during 1993-94. That book, Protecting Human Rights in Africa: Roles and Strategies of Non-Governmental Organizations, was cited as one of the outstanding academic books of 1995 by the American Library Association. Recently it was published in paperback by the University of Pennsylvania Press.
Ludwig is working on developing material for two new courses she wishes to teach, reading what Welch calls "some of the most challenging works either of us has seen" and doing groundwork for several scholarly papers.
While in Geneva, they flew twice to England-once for a week in London, during which Welch interviewed officers and examined records of Amnesty International and Anti-Slavery International, and once to Oxford, where he gave a seminar, consulted more anti-slavery archives and interviewed people from Oxfam, another organization he intends to examine in his book.
Ludwig returned to the U.S. in July, spending two weeks at Brown University, where she served as a faculty development specialist for "Boundaries and Borderlands," a seminar sponsored by the American Association of Colleges and Universities and focused on the issues of teaching American pluralism.
Also in July, Welch spent three weeks in Botswana as a visiting faculty member for the African Center for Security Studies' "senior leadership seminar." Directed at nearly 100 senior military officers, their counterparts in government bureaucracies and leaders of non-governmental organizations drawn from 47 African states, this seminar looked at civil-military relations, national strategy and defense economics-fields in which Welch has spent much of his academic career.
"We expect several visitors in the spring, but thus far it has been quiet for us," Welch reports in an e-mail before the semester break. "Not that we have much space: Our 'duplex' apartment isn't much larger than our living room (in the Buffalo suburb of Snyder) . The location is great, for the village of Ferney-Voltaire is convenient to the U.N. part of Geneva and has all the services one can want within easy walking distance. Nothing better than fresh croissants in the morning from one of the three bakeries up the street! We do need more space, however," he continues, "for it's hard to have two 'Type A' personalities with major projects to complete contending for the same four square feet of desk area.
"I spend most days in the libraries of the United Nations or the World Council of Churches-that is, when there are no important human-rights meetings I should attend," he writes.
"We both read the [French-language] Geneva newspapers closely, picking up lots of colloquial expressions along the way. Without question, our linguistic proficiencies have been remarkably enhanced."
At the end of November, the pair left Geneva to spend four weeks in India-the birthplace of Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism-where visits to a number of sacred sites provided Ludwig and Welch with source material for the courses they teach on comparative religions and World Civ, respectively.
Welch, working under a U.S. Institute for Peace research grant, points out that very few of the regular corps of teachers of the university's World Civilization courses (a popular general education staple that draws on ideas from diverse disciplines) have carried out extensive research on teaching about India, "despite its size, diversity and importance in global history. I wanted to help fill this lacuna," he says.
Ludwig says she found that the time spent in India-a departure from the "linguistic-based reading and writing that is occupying the bulk of the sabbatical year"-strengthened her understanding of religious practice in the subcontinent and will contribute "immeasurably" to her teaching.
"First, being present and observing people's activity at individual loci sancti that draw pilgrims from all over the world teaches 'the face of faith,'" she writes. "There is no substitute for circumambulating the great 'pool of nectar' at Amritsar with Sikhs, chanting the Heart Sutra before the Mahabodi monument at Bodhgaya with Buddhists, or witnessing the daily bathing and cremation rituals at the ghats of Varanasi.
"The second and doubtless most important aspect of the venture," she continues, "was ongoing and spontaneous conversations with everyday practitioners-from university faculty to shopkeepers and those who pedal rickshaws, to a Brahmin priest and head of a temple who was simultaneously a professor of civil engineering concerned with water quality of the Ganges.
"It was an unparalleled opportunity to talk directly with people about how they make choices about their faith, what specific practices they engage in and how they raise children in a world that sometimes makes religion difficult," Ludwig says.
She maintains that the time spent in India afforded her a better grasp of how the country deals-personally, politically and publicly-with its own issues of religious pluralism.
Her insights have been enlarged, she says, by conversations with university colleagues whose work is, in part, devoted to multicultural issues. As well, the major daily newspapers proved invaluable, she says. "They contained daily coverage of ancient wounds and reconciliations, as well as special holidays. Equally revealing are the regular columns devoted to 'ancient wisdom' from all traditions," she says.
In addition to gathering material and experiences that will prove useful in his teaching, Welch delved into the human-rights struggle of the "Dalits," the subject of one chapter of his book. The term is now used to describe the group widely known as the "Untouchables."
"The question I am investigating is a very sensitive one," he points out. "The 'Untouchable' population of India is about 15 percent of the total Indian populace of over 1 billion and they continue to labor, especially in rural areas, under a series of major social, economic and political disadvantages. Both a national and an international campaign are under way to brand 'casteism' as a form of racism, which is universally seen as a denial of basic human rights."
While in India, Welch and Ludwig also met with UB students studying at the University at Baroda, a contact Welch says was facilitated by John Wood, assistant director of the English Language Institute of UB.
The chair of the Department of Political Science at Baroda arranged for Welch to lecture at the university, as well as those in Jaipur, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Ahmedabad and Udaipur. His lecture topics included civil-military relations in democratizing societies and/or the role of NGOs in the promotion and protection of human rights.
He also spoke to the Rotary Club of Baroda on the effects of the then-undecided U.S. presidential election on U.S.-Indian relations, spoke on Mahatma Gandhi and human rights at an ashram in Ahmedabad founded by Gandhi, presented a talk at the Institute of Social Issues in New Delhi and participated in a national human-rights conference organized by the Centre for Human Rights Education and the Institute for World Congress on Human Rights.
"These contacts with scholars and human-rights activists turned out to be extremely important in building bridges of trust and understanding," Welch says.
As their sabbaticals wind down, the pair is based in the Netherlands, where Welch is serving as visiting scholar at the School of Human Rights Research at the University of Utrecht. He also plans to deliver invited lectures in Germany and Austria.
Welch notes there are countless benefits to faculty members-as well as the university-when scholars take sabbatical leaves. "It is the only way in which I could carry out the necessary extensive field research that a book of this sort requires," he writes. "It could not be written without direct contact with NGO leaders, who need to be spoken with 'on the spot.'
"It is also possible, through a sabbatical, to take time for concentrated writing," he says, pointing out that he sets for himself a regime in which he does not allow himself lunch until he has fulfilled a quota of written words. "Not that my practice is perfect," Welch explains, "for the rhythm of writing a book goes through cycles, when concentrated research is essential, rather than combined research and writing."
And as previously noted, a sabbatical leave allows for "incredible enrichment" of courses he currently teaches, as well as development of new ones, he adds.
"I teach the second half of World Civ. As I recall, none of the regular teachers of this important course is a specialist in India. I cannot claim to be one, as a result of a month's fieldwork and travel. But atop the 40-plus years in which I have carried out extensive reading and some writing about India, the rewards will be enormous. I try to illustrate my lectures in World Civ with slides, and I am taking many."
And then, there are the bookstores. Shops in New Delhi, in particular, provide a wealth of tomes not yet-or not easily-available in the U.S., especially in the areas of caste, women and socioreligious practice.
"We're filling our already bursting suitcases," Welch jokes.
Welch and Ludwig expect to be back on campus for the Fall 2001 semester.
Sue Wuetcher is director of periodicals and editor of the Reporter at UB.