UI officials: Sabbatical cap may have caused drop in applicants


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University of Iowa officials say the state's cap on sabbaticals has made the rigorous review process even more difficult.

"The cap has caused the university to examine the award process and make certain we have in place the quality of control we need," said Tom Rice, the UI associate provost for faculty.

The change comes after Gov. Terry Branstad signed legislation restricting sabbaticals — which the university officially calls professional-development assignments — last March to 3 percent of faculty at each regent university through June 30, 2012.

But even with a 3 percent cap, the state Board of Regents still received 111 requests this year — an increase of 16.

For fiscal 2013, the UI has requested approval for 64 assignments — representing 1.3 percent of faculty. Iowa State University has requested 29 — representing 1.7 percent of its faculty — and the University of Northern Iowa has requested 18, representing 2.2 percent.

UI officials are more closely examining the faculty eligibility before approval. Officials are also considering rate of success, past research, and if the department can afford the absence of the professor.

Rice said the faculty's progress is not tracked during their sabbatical, but professors are required to complete post-sabbatical reports detailing their accomplishments.

Faculty use sabbaticals to conduct research, write scholarly books and articles, present papers, and develop grant proposals.

The UI's colleges are requesting $174,000 — a jump from $130,800 last year — for faculty-replacement costs.

Rice said the cap was most likely triggered from the financial crisis, which led UI colleges to scrutinize assignments requested for budgetary reasons.

Edwin Dove, a former UI Faculty Senate president, said he is applying for a professional development leave to research ways to reduce infant mortality. He said he doesn't think the review process is any more difficult, more details are being requested on how it will benefit the state, students, and university.

Rep. Jeremy Taylor, R-Sioux City, the vice chairman of the House Education Committee, said the cap is necessary in order to prioritize requests and balance budgets.

"I think there is a finite amount of dollars, and if everybody had a wish list fulfilled for professional development and sabbaticals, it could far exceed dollars available," Taylor said.

Rice said a lot of faculty have been deterred from applying for the awards because of the cap.

"Before the financial crisis, we were awarding often 90 to 100, but this year it's 64, so clearly the cap had an impact on what we are able to offer."

Rice said some faculty have taken the initiative to allow other faculty to request an assignment if they are better prepared.

Senate Faculty President Richard Fumerton said the cap is not worth it.

"All caps should be evaluated based on merit," he said. "Because of the existence of a cap, you can only award one, and you can't award the other."

Though some state legislators have expressed concern about the cost of sabbaticals, Rice said the awards typically "pay for themselves."

The UI will receive $2 million in grants from previous sabbaticals, he said.

"We are turning away people who do have strong proposals, but I understand it's part of the budget crisis, and we need to do our part as a university to help the state meet budget shortfalls," Rice said.

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