Universities request fewer sabbaticals

BY SAM LANE | DECEMBER 03, 2010 7:20 AM

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All three state universities are requesting fewer sabbaticals for their employees this year — a fact some Republican lawmakers may welcome but is concerning to some professors and university administrators.

And despite the decrease in requests, the University of Iowa has seen a slight increase in faculty asking for to be a part of the paid research leaves.

Only 95 faculty members at the UI, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa are seeking sabbaticals in fiscal 2012, a decrease from 107 in fiscal 2011, according documents released Thursday as part of the agenda for the state Board of Regents' meeting next week.

At the UI, the number of faculty requesting sabbaticals — which university officials call "career development awards" — has increased from 52 in fiscal 2011 to 58 in 2012.

Republicans seeking to trim the state budget have suggested cutting the practice of sabbaticals as a way to reach that goal.

In a February newsletter, Iowa House Republicans pushed a cancellation of all regent sabbaticals for a year, which they said could save the state $6 million.

But some UI faculty expressed their opposition to using sabbatical cuts as a way to reduce budget problems, saying they are an important part of every university.

"Some legislators do not understand and appreciate our contributions to the advancement of human knowledge and quality of life of Americans and Iowans," said Diana Cates, a UI religious-studies professor who is applying for sabbatical next year to write two chapters of a book. "They do not understand the significance of what we do."

If all of the UI's 58 sabbatical requests are approved, the university will have to pay a total of $130,000 in budgeted replacement costs, which is down from last year's total of nearly $149,000.

Professor Paul Abbas, the head of the UI communication sciences and disorders department who is requesting a sabbatical next fall to study cochlear implants, said the real concern among faculty is the opportunity will "go away permanently."

"It's important for faculty to periodically spend concentrated time on research," said Abbas, and any sort of elimination "could be a real concern in our comparison with other universities when competing for faculty and research dollars."

UI Faculty Senate President Ed Dove said the number of faculty who request a sabbatical fluctuates each year.

He noted faculty submit proposals to college deans, who then decide which proposals will be sent to the Office of the Provost. From there, requests are sent to the regents for their approval.

As for the GOP's ideas for cutting costs, Dove said eliminating sabbaticals "doesn't make sense."

"If you look at what are the results that are altered by [career development awards], it's research work that's turned right back into the classroom," he said. "It's a tremendous benefit for students and Iowa."

And Dove said he, as well as the presidents and provosts of the regent universities, will continue to fight any sort of cancellation for assignments.

"All I know is I'm trying my hardest to make sure that the [career development awards] are not eliminated," he said. "I will continue to do that until they are approved."

DI reporter Alison Sullivan contributed to this report.

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