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Letter to the Editor

BY DI READERS | DECEMBER 16, 2010 7:10 AM

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Sabbaticals should be defended

Anyone who imagines that professional development assignments, also known as sabbaticals, are paid vacations that waste state funds would do well to shadow a mid-career faculty member in the humanities.

Typically, such a professor's work during a semester will consist of: teaching courses outside his or her area of research because of the pressure to increase enrollments;voluntarily supervising independent-study projects within one's specialty for those few students who might be excited about arcane subjects; mentoring graduate students intent on becoming the best researchers they can be; taking on ever-increasing service duties as administrative burdens on faculty grow with bureaucratic expansion; and still trying to meet the standard expectation that 40 percent of one's time be devoted to productive research.

In a number of specializations, the researcher's work demands travel to libraries, close attention to texts in various languages, attempting to keep up with current work in the field, and open-ended time for thinking about where one's research fits into the current state of scholarship, little of which can easily be squeezed into a typical academic week.

The greater the demands on teaching and service, the more important the release time for research.

In turn, the more support for research, the more willingly faculty members will want to serve and teach.

Protecting professional development assignments is in everyone's interest, and the University of Iowa community and the regents must stand together to defend the academic mission of a Research I university.

Ralph Keen
history professor, University of Illinois-Chicago


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