The Board of Regents approved the request for 95 faculty sabbaticals for the state universities Thursday despite questions whether the leaves should be suspended during these tough economic times. The regents approval came after the presidents of all three state-funded schools spoke out in favor of the sabbaticals.
Iowa State University president Gregory Geoffrey said he knows first hand about their importance as he took a six-month leave to Europe as a professor. Geoffrey says the sabbatical significantly enhanced the research program he was conducting. He says even more importantly, he gave around 25 lectures in a half dozen countries where he was able to interact and exchange ideas with students and professors at other institutions.
Geoffrey says that experience was very important to moving his work ahead. “I came away so enriched in new directions to pursue in my research laboratories through those interactions, and I also established important connections that led to research partnerships with universities and professors that would have never existed if I had not taken that professional development assignment,” Geoffrey said.
University of Northern Iowa president Ben Allen said the sabbaticals are also important in Cedar Falls. Allen says they view the sabbaticals as an important recruiting tool for faculty as it offers an opportunity to the faculty. And he says the benefits of the leaves come back to the students. University of Iowa president Sally Mason says the sabbaticals are key in keeping the universities at the top.
Mason says they are part of the “fabric of what any research university is all about.” She says any business leader will tell you that the success of their organization depends on the people carrying out its mission, and allowing those people to have certain kinds of development opportunities along the way “can be very, very important to their productivity.” Mason and the other two university presidents tried to counter the idea that the sabbaticals are vacations for the faculty that use them.
“These career development assignments are not sabbaticals or leaves,” Mason says, “there is no expectation that you’re taking time off. The full expectation is that you’re working, you’re just working on different things. You’re working on things that are a different aspect of your professional life. It will cost the universities around $420,000 to hire people to fill in for the faculty who are on sabbatical in 2012.
Regent Robert Downer of Iowa City asked that more be done to explain the sabbaticals. Downer says he supports the sabbaticals, but at the same time says “we have not done a good job of explaining this to the public.” Regent Michael Gartner of Des Moines asked for a full discussion of the sabbaticals be placed on the agenda for a future meeting.