“Release time” vs. “Reassigned time”


Words matter, because words dictate how we think. Our brains think using words to organize ideas. Language and reasoning are coupled together. (Yes, I know some linguists that disagree.)

Here’s a example from our own realm that matters to me.

Faculty members can have their responsibilities partially shifted away from teaching to other obligations. For example, one might be the chair of the academic senate, or serve as departmental chair, run a campus center, or conduct externally-funded research. These responsibilities result in a reduction of the teaching load, to make time available to fulfill other service or research obligations.

I usually hear this shift of effort called “release time.”

That terminology bugs me. This phraseology implies that faculty are being released from a responsibility. That is not the case. The responsibility is being shifted partly away from teaching and partly towards service or research.

Nobody’s getting “released” from anything. Nobody’s getting away with anything.

In fact, in nearly all so-called “release time” assignments that I’m familiar with, the amount of time and effort required for the new task well exceed the teaching assignment from which the faculty member was “released.”

This is why I use the term “reassigned time,” because it more accurately reflects the arrangement at hand. If we give in to the term “release time,” then this gives a false impression to those who have the power to grant or deny this reassignment of your time. While we all rationally know that “release time” is still just as much — and typically more — work, the terminology works in insidious and subconscious ways.

So, when you’re negotiating for time to do an externally funded project, don’t call it release. Call it reassignment. It’s not only more accurate, but it might even increase the chance of a favorable decision.