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Remain steadfast in commitment to research: reject potential cuts

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | DECEMBER 04, 2009 7:30 AM

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The UI’s established identity as a top research institution is at stake.

The state Board of Regents has asked the university to examine if cuts to research awards, which are called Professional Development Assignments, are possible for next year. This proposal by the regents fails to recognize the importance of these opportunities and dismisses the positive outcomes they create for faculty. The UI should do whatever is in its means to thwart this attack on academic scholarship.

Professional Development Assignments allow faculty to focus on their scholarly work for a period ranging from one to three semesters over three years while being free from the obligation of teaching classes. In certain UI departments, specifically the humanities, this time provides one of the only opportunities to conduct research.

Katherine Tachau, a UI history professor and the Faculty Senate secretary, disagrees with the potential cut.

“I think it’s a mistake,” she said. “What the common public calls sabbaticals is when continuing education occurs.”

Tachau understands this philosophy. However, the regents clearly fail to see the power these awards provide.

Universities should promote the continuing research of its professors. Engaged and motivated faculty members make for better teachers, thus providing a better quality of education for university students. Any proposal that impedes that all-important mission should be scrapped.
Research opportunities give faculty members an increased breadth of knowledge to draw upon, making their contributions to this university more substantial. Furthermore, national recognition of UI research efforts gives the school a positive reputation and raises its stature in the academic community.

The UI faculty realize the importance of these research periods. Indeed, Tachau said, they often take on additional students to make up for a missing faculty member.

“If we are teaching larger classes because somebody is on leave, we expect they will do that for us,” she said.

UI Provost Wallace Loh has made it clear that the UI administration opposes curtailing research funding. “State-supported research is absolutely essential for the research mission of the university,” he told the DI.

The 56 applications officials will present next week at the regents’ meeting will cost the university an estimated $1.9 million, a total he has said the university should accept. That number may sound significant, but Tachau asserts that over an extended period of time, the departments bring in enough to nullify the $1.9 million cost.

There is no denying that current budget cuts have put a considerable strain on state-funded appropriations. Nevertheless, cutting research grants is not the answer and is entirely antithetical to our educational objectives. The regents are obligated to promote the success and welfare of the state’s top institutions.

Cutting these research opportunities would stunt the UI’s growth and make it harder to attract top-level professors.

“There would be nothing to teach if this system broke down,” Tachau said.

If the quality of education does not decrease because of these awards, then we should leave the system in place. The UI is a top-tier institution because every faculty member believes research is not just a job requirement but an important totality that enhances the education we provide on a daily basis.

We urge the regents to maintain our standards of excellence by allowing our faculty to continue to receive these research awards.


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