A colleague in another department was recently talking about what they liked most about a sabbatical, other than the obvious things. In this case, a favorite sabbatical benefit was: not having to write letters of recommendation. I was surprised by that choice (and not just because there is no way that this is better than not attending faculty meetings), but the conversation moved on and I didn't get a chance to ask for clarification.
I hope what this colleague meant was that, as a result of being far far away for the year and not teaching, some of the students who need a letter of reference from a professor who taught one of their classes will ask someone else. I doubt that this person refuses to write letters for graduate students or undergrads with whom they have had close interaction (e.g., as research assistants or interns or as students in more than one class). Even while on sabbatical, we still have responsibility for our advisees and other students, past and present, and that includes writing letters when needed.
I can see, however, that it would be nice to have a break from the letters that are really hard to write because you don't know much more about the student than what grade they got in the class, and maybe where they sat -- the latter not typically being interesting or relevant information in a letter of reference, although I've seen desperate faculty get a lame paragraph out of the fact that a student always sat in the front row. Even so, a respite from this type of letter-writing isn't on my list of ancillary-but-great-things-about-sabbaticals.
So, other than not attending faculty meetings, what else is on my list?
There isn't much, actually. It is nice to have the time to recharge and so on and spend time in a different interesting place with different interesting people and get a lot of thinking and writing and new research done, but those are the usual things. In fact, I am not desperate to get away from students or interruptions or my office or other things like that (including writing letters, even though I write a lot of letters). [I should note here that I do not have a killer teaching load; in a typical year, I am able to devote time to teaching and research.]
OK, I just came up with something else for my ancillary-but-great-things list, which now has two items on it. So here is the list:
1. not attending faculty meetings (I may have mentioned that one);
2. exams and grading
1 month ago