Republican legislators may try to scuttle some of the sabbaticals professors at the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa just got approval for last week.
The Board of Regents approved sabbaticals for 95 faculty members, but Representative Linda Upmeyer, a Republican who will be the House G.O.P. Leader in 2011, is raising questions about some of those sabbaticals.
“Iowa taxpayers are not interested in funding a study of the growth of billiards in the Phillippines,” Upmeyer says.
Upmeyer will be in charge of the debate agenda in the Iowa House and she says denying all sabbaticals for a year could save up to six million dollars. While Upmeyer says some sabbaticals are “without a doubt justified,” others are highly questionable.
“The study of superstitions in the Middle Ages,” Upmeyer says, “now that may be fascinating stuff, but…”
House Democratic Leader Kevin McCarthy of Des Moines suggests professors are an easy target. “If you look at some of the sabbaticals, they seem a little absurd, so it makes for good political fodder. It’s probably a good political target and we’ll certainly look at any proposal they have and see if there’s some support there (among Democrats),” McCarthy says. “Having said that, in terms of real dollars, it would save virtually nothing.”
The university presidents say sabbaticals are part of the “fabric” of research universities and said it would cost about $420,000 to hire people to teach the courses of the 95 faculty members who got sabbaticals approved for 2012.
McCarthy says there is value to sabbaticals.
“If you have a professor at one of our Regents institutions you want them to be the best they can be on a national scale — a global scale — and sabbaticals are a part of that journey,” McCarthy says. “Every other institution in the United States of America does it and we want to make sure that we’re not moving in a Neanderthal fashion.”
One member of the Board of Regents said last week that the universities had not done a good job explaining the benefits of sabbaticals to the public and another asked that the issue be discussed again by the board at a future meeting.