Of the 3,340 full-time and 760 part-time faculty members in the University of Minnesota system, 104 went on sabbatical and 83 went on semester leave from 2009-10.
But with looming budget problems crippling public universities across the country, lawmakers are looking at cutting sabbaticals as a way to balance the books.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal cut the state’s higher education budget in November, explicitly including sabbaticals.
In November, Jindal told reporters it will “force professors to actually spend more time in the classrooms teaching and interacting
Since 2008, the University of Iowa cut its number of sabbaticals in half and their newly Republican-controlled legislature is proposing to cancel them altogether for a year. Truman State University in Missouri has already done this for the next fiscal year, according to the Associated Press.
“Do we compare notes and are we aware of what’s going on in other states? Of course,” Minnesota Sen. Charles Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, said. “But, I think if we were to chip away at sabbaticals, it would be foolish.”
Wiger serves on the Higher Education Committee and is the outgoing deputy chairman of the Education Committee in the Senate.
“I view sabbaticals as very beneficial and it’s in our state’s best interest to have highly qualified faculty,” he said.
At the University of Minnesota, tenured faculty apply for sabbatical or semester leave after seven years of teaching.
“Sabbaticals allow for faculty to be renewed and explore new areas,” Vice Provost of Student and Academic Affairs Arlene Carney said. “It’s an intense period of time to focus and produce something extraordinary.”
Sabbaticals grant half-pay and full benefits, while semester leave allows both full pay and benefits.
The number of faculty members determines the number of leaves allotted to each college. Four percent of all faculty within the University system can be on some sort of leave at one time.
“Occasionally, colleges don’t fill the quota they’re given, so if another college asks if it’s possible to grant them another one — and we haven’t reached that 4 percent — then I allow them to have it,” Carney said. “First we want to make sure it’s fair across all the faculty population.” She said this number has been consistent for about 10 years.
Carney said tangible results of sabbaticals and semester leaves include writing books, developing new courses, furthering research and collaborating with colleagues from around the world.
The College of Biological Sciences has about four faculty members currently on leave.
“Typically we want them to develop new courses or really change existing ones,” CBS Associate Dean Robin Wright said. “That’s always been the case.”
More CBS faculty opt to stay on campus, take a semester off from their regular teaching duties and develop new courses and curriculum.
Regardless, some lawmakers view sabbaticals primarily as paid vacations during a time of furloughs and lay-offs.
“Why should the taxpayers … be paying to basically give these folks a year off from teaching?” Iowa House Speaker-designate Kraig Paulsen said at a November press conference.
Carney said opinions like this are a “lack of understanding. Sabbaticals are certainly not vacations and we make sure of that.”
“These things really come back to helping the teaching of our students,” she said. “Faculty becomes inspired and full of new ideas that can be directly passed on.”
Wiger said that intervening and suggesting sabbaticals be cut has never been brought up in either committee he serves on, but “nothing is off the table when we have a $6.2-billion deficit.”
“I would not be surprised if it did come up,” Carney said. “But I think we have a very strong case as to why this helps the University move forward.”
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