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Professional development assignments increase but UI still falls under statewide cap

BY CASSIDY RILEY | DECEMBER 04, 2012 6:30 AM

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The University of Iowa Provost’s Office approved 65 career-development assignments for fiscal 2014, during which faculty members are able to conduct research or complete projects in their fields while staying on salary.

After years of scrutiny over the number of such assignments, also known as sabbaticals, officials said they’re happy with that number.

For the 2012-13 school year, the Legislature capped the number of career-development assignments the regent universities could grant due to concerns about the cost of replacing faculty. The cap was set at 3 percent of each school’s faculty.

For fiscal 2014, the regents maintained that the schools needed to keep the number of granted career-development assignments at 3 percent of faculty.

Legislative efforts to rein in the number of sabbaticals over the last few years — including a suggestion by Republican legislators to temporarily cancel all assignments — was met with pushback from faculty and officials who argued the professional development assignments keep universities competitive and enrich teaching.

The regents are scheduled to meet on Wednesday and discuss the granting of the career-development assignments for all three universities. All three have stayed within the 3 percent cap.

“I think the board is trying to be cooperative in so far as trying to follow what expressions of what legislative intent have been,” Regent Robert Downer said.

Downer said he was pleased to see the schools stay within the cap.

“In the absence of some demonstration that this is falling way short of what we need to keep the faculty vital and engaged and up to date, it appears to me that the process is working,” he said.

Associate Provost for Faculty Tom Rice said the UI’s colleges had the challenging task of narrowing down the number of career-development assignments to be in compliance with the cap.

“I’m pleased that the colleges have continued to scrutinize the proposals and are making sure that those that advanced to the Provost’s Office do actually warrant time off,” he said. “We trust the colleges to make the tough decisions.”

Joseph Kearney, the associate dean of research and development for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said the task of meeting the cap requirement was made easier by the creation of a review committee in 2010. This committee comprises deans and faculty members from all areas across the college to approve career development-assignment proposals.

“We were looking forward, and it wasn’t clear what our ability was going to be to award career development assignments,” he said. “So we wanted to bring in knowledgeable people from the breadth of the college to help review the proposals. We get together around 4 or 4:30 and the door is locked until we’re done.”

Last year, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences granted 50 career-development assignments, 58 were granted this year.

UI Associate Professor of journalism Stephen Berry was granted his first ever career-development assignment for the next fall semester to work on a biography of the late Harry Scott Ashmore, the editor of the Arkansas Gazette during the civil-rights movement.

Berry said he will travel and do research, using interviews and analyzing archives. His experiences during the semester will enrich his teaching when he gets back, he said.

“I will learn lessons in the course of these interviews,” he said. “I will make interviewing mistakes and bring those lessons to my classrooms, and that is so valuable.”

Berry said he is concerned about the cap on the number of career-development assignments granted.

“The decisions on who gets a career-development leave should be based strictly on the merit of the proposal that the faculty member submits in applying for that career development leave,” he said.

“If the university decides that the proposal has merit for the potential of knowledge, they should have the authority to make that decision, and if one year, they have a lot of highly qualified proposals that happens to go over the 3 percent, they should be allowed to go over that amount.”

Kearney said working under the cap for the past two years wasn’t too difficult because in years prior there were even larger concerns about how many career-development assignments the university would be able to afford, which resulted in the creation of the committee to assess the strength of all proposals.

“I think without the cap, we can make good judgments, fund strong proposals, and meet the needs of our students,” he said. “I don’t think we need the cap to do that.”


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