University to lift sabbaticals freeze next year

Suzi Starheim

Faculty can now take their time for research

Sabbaticals will be reauthorized for the 2010-2011 academic year, and the pile of proposals to be reviewed is on the provost’s desk.

Usually 50 to 70 sabbaticals are authorized every academic year. However, none of the 60 proposed leaves were granted during 2009-2010.

The original decision to not approve sabbaticals, or Faculty Professional Improvement Leaves, for the 2009-2010 academic year was made in December 2008 based on the economic downturn, said Robert Frank, provost and senior vice president of academic affairs.

Frank said overall the estimated $350,000 to $500,000 saved by the sabbatical cut was just a decimal of the $7 million budget cuts made by the university in the past year.

“We made major budget cuts by not filling positions as they came open or by collapsing positions together,” he said. “The biggest expense for a sabbatical is the salary for that faculty.”

Paul Farrell, vice chair of the Faculty Senate and computer science professor, said it is very difficult to estimate the amount of money saved by not authorizing sabbaticals, but thinks it was a fair decision based on the economic state at the time.

“The fact that there was economic downtown justifies the one time canceling,” Farrell said. “It would have been better if it hadn’t been cancelled, but there probably wasn’t any long term irreparable damage done by it.”

Farrell has been at Kent State for 25 years and has taken two sabbaticals. During those leaves, he spent time at other institutions setting up research collaborations with them. He also did research in Ireland and the Netherlands, he said.

During a professional development leave, faculty can choose to either take a semester off for research at full pay, or a full year at half pay. Farrell said he chose to take a full year at half salary.

A faculty member whose sabbatical was cancelled said she doesn’t necessarily think the suspension of sabbaticals was a wise budget cut. The faculty member asked to remain anonymous because she is re-applying for a sabbatical and fears reprisal.

“We were the only university in Ohio that cancelled sabbaticals,” she said. “It didn’t make much financial sense. It was a very trivial cut.”

This faculty member said there were about 21 or 22 sabbaticals that wouldn’t have cost the university money because of grants and should have been authorized.

“Why not just only give the ones that didn’t have the financial attachment to them?” she said. “Maybe just cut down the numbers instead of getting rid of it completely.”

Farrell said the biggest downfall to taking a year off from offering sabbaticals is the risk of not attracting quality faculty in the future.

“Universities of quality who have not had sabbaticals in the past find that they have to do something like this to get good research faculty,” he said. “If there was a more continued cancellation, then we would have much more serious trouble attracting good faculty.”

Farrell also said choosing to not have sabbaticals “will have delayed research by one year,” making Kent State “a semester or year behind in research.”

Frank said the decision to not have sabbaticals helped the overall budget cuts at Kent State.

“We did everything we could, and when you face those kinds of things you just try to find every penny in the couch,” he said.

The decision will be made within the next few weeks on which faculty members will get sabbaticals for the 2010-2011 academic year, Frank said.

Contact academics reporter Suzi Starheim at [email protected]