A law capping the number of sabbaticals the state Board of Regents can grant won’t hit already-approved faculty leaves, but next year’s requests won’t be so safe.
Gov. Terry Branstad signed legislation Monday limiting the number of sabbaticals — also known as professional-development assignments — to 3 percent of faculty at each state university through June 30, 2012. In addition to the cap, the legislation requires the regents to prepare an annual report comparing each sabbatical proposal with the professor’s results.
The 58 UI faculty members — 4.2 percent of the university’s total faculty — whose sabbaticals regents approved in December 2010 won’t be affected.
The regents have approved sabbatical requests for more than 3 percent of the UI’s eligible professors every year since 2007, when they approved 7.6 percent.
Overall, they approved sabbaticals for 2.9 percent of faculty across all three state universities in December.
“It doesn’t seem to affect the university too much over the next year because it includes a sunset date,” said Ed Dove, UI Faculty Senate president. “The limit then would depend on how many applications have merit and how many can be afforded.”
Sabbaticals have been a fiercely contested issue for months, since some Republicans suggested cutting them as a way to save money. All three regent schools will likely increase tuition to compensate for cuts in state funding.
“Its very difficult to explain how some sabbaticals would make sense to taxpayers,” said Rep. Nick Wagner, R-Marion. “When it’s taxpayer dollars, I believe they deserve the best return on their investment, and I didn’t see that happening.”
Wagner cited cases in which UI money was used on sabbaticals to finish research for degrees — a claim Dove denied.
UI English professor Florence Boos is among those who were approved for a sabbatical in December.
“In the year when the Legislature is actually contemplating tax cuts, I believe cutting research at the state universities is a tragic mistake,” Boos said. “Faculty members have waited a long time for those leaves, and their research adds a tremendous value to the state’s well-being.”
The total budgeted replacement costs for this year’s approved assignments was a combined $422,283 for the three regent universities, according to regent documents.
Regent President David Miles said the universities will address legislators’ concerns and make sure sabbaticals are being used effectively.
“The Board of Regents has taken no position on the statute limiting leave of absence assignments,” Miles said in an statement. “It goes without saying that we will comply with the law. Beyond that, we respect the concerns expressed by our elected state officials and will sharpen our efforts to ensure that the assignments enhance the core missions of the institutions.”