No sabbaticals in "I-O-WAAAAY?"

He's a fake and he doesn't know the territory!

We’ve got trouble, friends–right here!  Republican legistlators in the Hawkeye State are ginning up the kulkurkampfen again by targeting professors’ sabbaticals at public universities.  They think that Iowans are not aware of the caliber of disaster indicated by the presence of sabbaticals in public university budgets!  Unsurprisingly, incoming House speaker Kraig Paulsen doesn’t remember that there are all kinds of biomedical faculty, business professors, and engineering proffies in Iowa.  He targets Medieval Studies and Music!

It’s awful hard to look a taxpayer in the eye and say, “You need to pay higher property taxes so that a professor can take a year off from teaching to go research superstitions on the Middle Ages or write a musical.”

I wonder how sabbaticals would fare if faculty proposed instead to remember the Maine, Plymouth Rock, and the Golden Rule?

The story at Marketplace is actually in sympathy with preserving sabbaticals–their angle of the story is that it’s penny-wise but pound-foolish, and they interview someone from the AAUP to make the case for preserving faculty sabbaticals.  I sure wish he had been permitted to expand on the other point he made, which is that faculty aren’t just teachers, we’re also contractually obligated to produce research as well as contribute to self-governance and service.  Yes, those very people who don’t want their property taxes to go up have also–through university boards and administrators–required us to do much more than just teach our classes.

As far as I can tell, my sabbatical in 2007-08 at Baa Ram U. actually made money for my university.  Like most American faculty we only get a full year at half pay or one semester at full pay, so the people who take the whole year end up paying for the people on half-year sabbaticals.  I took the full year of leave, so the college kited half my salary to cover the other sabbaticals.  They didn’t hire anyone to teach my courses, advise students, or to help carry the burden of service.  (My colleagues all pitched in and did it for free, again, as we all do every year for colleagues who are on leave.  Somehow, that’s never recognized in these conversations about how costly sabbaticals are at public unis.)

Then again, maybe Paulsen has a point.  After all, what has musical theater ever done for “I-o-waaaay? ”

He really ought to give Iowa–HAWKEYE IOWA–a try!

0 thoughts on “No sabbaticals in "I-O-WAAAAY?"

  1. I totally agree with this post from top to bottom.

    Out legislature killed sabbaticals years ago. Instead everyone has to apply for a sabbatical semester with a non-sabbatical name.

    Also, tenure track faculty aren’t eligible. My college is the only non-professional college in the university that guarantees tenure-track faculty one semester leave. The other colleges require all TT faculty to apply to a limited pool of fellowships.

    The reason my college guarantees leave is kinda messed up. It’s because one of the departments (mine) figured out that the pool the TT people were applying to could be used to fund tenured faculty leave. Guess what happened?


  2. Gosh, I actually know the medievalist he’s talking about! Seems even more surreal when someone you know has been used to make a point about “pointless research!” This person’s books are good!

    I also had a huge fight on fb with someone about this very issue. I have an old friend who left academia after not finding a job to his liking; he linked to a story about this and used it as an excuse to play whipping boy on his former chosen profession, sardonically insisting that research contributes nothing at all to teaching. Oh! I was so irritated, especially from someone who should know better, but who just wants to be a bitter asshole. Ugh!

    U Iowa is going to see an exodus of anyone who can possibly get out, if they continue down this path. And they’ll have a hard time recruiting new faculty after.


  3. Amen, sister! I’m on a reduced-salary full-year sabbatical, too, and there’s no leave-replacement visitor taking my place. Rust Belt is saving money on me this year!

    And I would add that those sabbaticals improve our teaching, too. We’re experts in our fields and disciplines because of the research we do, and knowledge changes. We can’t have possibly learned everything we need to know in graduate school!

    And some of the projects we do over sabbatical are directly related to teaching. Although the projects (article and book) I proposed to get the sabbatical are original research (and therefore indirectly related to teaching but directly related another part of *what I’m paid to do*!), I’m also working on four things directly related to the education of my students *and* students around the English speaking world: 1) I’m boning up in my distant third field of historical linguistics to be a better teacher of Old and Middle English language, and to be able to teach History of the English Language if I should be needed; 2) I’m re-reading a syllabus full of classical and continental European medieval and early modern lit in order to teach our European lit to the Renaissance class when I return; 3) I’m co-editing an anthology of literature in my specialty, to be used in classrooms everywhere; 4) I’m writing a chapter in a “guide to…” book on the same body of literature — another book geared for students.

    Btw, “superstitions *on* the Middle Ages”?? What kind of idiom is that? Is that like “think on that”? Does the “on” mean “about”? Or did she mean “in”? This taxpayer isn’t even sure what she’s saying!


  4. To the Iowa legislature, as to all state legislatures, I submit the following remark, respectfully: How about you get to make decisions when you START FOOTING THE BILL. Obviously I would fight for sabbaticals even if the state paid 100% of the uni’s budget, but as is it’s laughable/outrageous/ ridiculous/ hypocritical of them to wax pious about the ‘taxpayers’ when they’ve worked as hard as they can to privatize the unis. Moreover, the constant barrage of assaults on research, whether here in this example or back in 2008 election (remember that furor over the study on bear DNA?), circle us back to the war on education & teachers. We as a culture keep getting dumber & the quality of our education worse. Are we really going to destroy the only part of the educational system that’s still successful? And wonder as we continue the downward spiral against our global competition. ‘Cause the Chinese (et al.) aren’t getting dumber, that’s for sure.


  5. Perpetua: right on. My uni gets less than 10% of its overall budget from the state. I say let’s auction off the naming rights, since the people of Colorado aren’t actually paying for their universities. How about Cargill U., or Archer Daniels Midland Tech? So long as they pay the bills, they can call us whatever they like.

    Squadrato, my thoughts about recruiting people to teach in public Iowa unis was the same as yours. A lot of people even at the flagship state U. you mention commute from other states because distance from metropoli and spousal employment are already huge issues in getting people from grad schools on the coasts to move to that part of the midwest/verging on the Great Plains. Throw in the no-sabbatical rule, and it’s Goodnight Irene for Iowa unis.

    And Abby: The Music Man was and remains one of the smartest of the great Broadway/Hollywood musicals. It plays a big role in the entertainment culture chez Historiann. In many ways, it’s parallel to Mad Men these days, which (like The Music Man) is a show about the world 50 years earlier that both plays on nostalgia for a simpler time but also uses it as a forum for expressing the anxieties of the present.


  6. I’m working through my mountain of grading on my way to starting a six-month sabbatical on January 1st. The last such sabbatical allowed me to not only write a chapter for publication and present two conference papers, but I also learned an entire new sub-field (Ancient Near Eastern history) so that I could start teaching that subject for our students. It’s become the most popular course in our department and I never would have been able to offer it without that sabbatical break.

    Thanks to sabbaticals, we become better teachers and we contribute to that pesky ol’ research requirement in our jobs (which never ratchets down, does it?). Iowa’s legislators are, like so many, grandstanding glory-hounds who might even know that truth but don’t care to let that get in the way of their vote-grubbing. *sigh*


  7. I don’t know why they always feel like the Medievalist is fair game. Like the knowledge we produce is somehow less valuable. I would venture to say that said Republican politician probably couldn’t even identify the chronological parameters of the period.

    If I remember correctly, sabbaticals also came under fire in the great recession of 2003/4 in Iowa. They survived that attack, maybe they’ll survive this one as well. I live in hope.


  8. Be nice if Rep. Paulsen were just an isolated yahoo speaking only for himself, but U. Iowa reeks of his attitude. I was a visiting prof there for a semester just before the period anon. mentions, when Iowa was an early adopter of an influential, genius cost-saving technology: “furloughs.” As applied at Iowa, the word was a euphemism for a decree that all uni employees were docked a day’s pay for each month on the calendar. I didn’t lose any money from the furlough because my wage for the term had been fixed but I got to see the sickening effect on morale.

    Hey, I feel a mathematical inspiration coming on. Hang on a sec: add up the employees’ wages, multiply by two, carry the one … got it! The double furlough! Two days a month without pay instead of one! If my calculations are correct, the cost savings will double. As we sing it here: Awesome!

    Iowa had a reputation for paying pretty well up to around 2000. And yep, squadro, it is losing faculty. The depressing part of the tale is that Iowa is collapsing and punishing itself only in an absolute sense, not a relative one, because its fellow universities around the country are governed by the same beliefs.

    “The Music Man” clips do make it a little better, though.


  9. Also, how ridiculous to pay completely unknown people to come live in Iowa for a year or two and theorize about writing novels, when we know they’ll all only move to New York and New Hampshire and actually *write* novels that undermine the seed corn industry, while decrying and villifying the hardworking savant-lobbyists that Iowa sends to Washington to keep the ethanol flowing into the virtual American fueltank!

    I taught once in a state that seems much like Iowa, and the dean downstairs was always bemoaning the senior scholars upstairs for going off on late-announced research junkets (that were almost entirely self-funded through grant-getting skills that lay on career foundations they had set as junior sabbatical holders). The department oracle/cynic sat back and said just wait, some year soon, for whatever reasons, nobody will be heading off and then ze’ll scream about “how am I supposed to PAY for all these people!!!” Sure enough, it happened.


  10. I dislike arguments that justify spending money on faculty research because it “improves teaching”, as if the research per se is unjustifiable. Universities exist to serve multiple independent purposes, and research is one of them. Hanging the justification of research on teaching is a very, very dangerous road.


  11. @ Comrade, This is quite true in a general sense, but it will vary from discipline to discipline, and circumstance to circumstance, and I don’t think it’s merely a pragmatic rhetorical argument to suggest the link where it exists. I always think of my mother’s 1939 college history textbook, which I actually found in a crawlspace, and which was a very pretty book in its day. But it would be criminal to inflict on any students today, and the key to that transformation could be described as a kind of million sabbatical march.

    I’d love to see Wikileaks flush out and publish the undergraduate transcripts of every state legislator in the U.S. for the past twenty years. A lot of the people who we give low grades to are in fact quite smart people, they just don’t like to sit in classes and submit to academic discipline, or disciplines. They find their way through to a B.A., make lots of money, and if sent up to the state capital, it’s payback time.


  12. In a country where science is the enemy of way too many politicians, sabbaticals are foot soldiers in a losing war. Darwin is a clown, Newton is a socialist, bridges fall apart, unemployed are bums and our top progressive is to the right of McCain.


  13. And just when I thought I couldn’t get any more demoralized, there you go. Sadly, this is probably the beginning (or middle?) of a race to the bottom. The ultimate losers will be the students and (by extension) the country as a whole.


  14. “I dislike arguments that justify spending money on faculty research because it “improves teaching”, as if the research per se is unjustifiable. Universities exist to serve multiple independent purposes, and research is one of them. Hanging the justification of research on teaching is a very, very dangerous road.”

    I see where you’re coming from CPP, but I would respectfully submit that while research is a (small) component of my job duties (at a 3rd or 4th tier regional university), research is not, in fact, a primary reason why my university exists. For that reason, I think that arguments about the centrality of sabbatical to teaching make sense in my context and they don’t actually dilute or distract from what sabbatical is supposed to be (we can apply for sabbatical in order to work on pedagogy – it’s not just a research award) or make any difference in how research is regarded at my institution. Now, if I were at the state flagship, I’d agree with you: sabbatical shouldn’t be justified at a research university on the basis of teaching, because a primary part of the mission of the flagship is, in fact, research. The problem is, you can’t map the mission of the flagship onto the many, many other state institutions that award 4-year degrees (or the mission of the private research university onto the many, many non-research-intensive slacs that award 4-year degrees). So, if we want to preserve sabbatical, we need to address the fact that “sabbatical” is not a one-size-fits-all research award.


  15. I had the same thoughts, Dr. Crazy, but it might interest you to know that although I teach at an R-1, a great deal of our university’s application for sabbatical asks us to state specifically how our sabbaticals will enrich our teaching and benefit our students. (In fact, there are more questions about that than there are about how our research is valuable or useful in our specialized fields.) My uni is not the flagship–it’s the Aggie school–but all faculty must fill out the same forms whether or not they’re in Ph.D.-granting departments.

    Although I think you’re right that different institutions clearly have different identities and different priorities, I wonder if the public/private divide is more important than the teaching school/R1 divide.


  16. H- that may be the case, and also there may be disciplinary differences at work, too, for those of us who are largely responsible for the general education curriculum of the university vs. those who don’t work in disciplines that aren’t. (Which doesn’t speak to the application process at your uni, but it does speak, I think, to CPP’s perspective about research being important in itself, regardless of its connection to the classroom.)


  17. Following Dr. Crazy, what happens at schools which are flailing to find a middle ground between R1 and teaching schools? At my southern public university, there supposedly are no sabbaticals, but there are university wide competitions for a handful of awards equivalent of one semester leave at 80% pay for anyone here more than 7 years. We have nearly 1000 tenure/tenure-track faculty, so the odds of getting one are really slim. That may have made sense in olden tymes, when the mission of the school clearly was to produce teachers, but now the admin want to expand doctoral and masters programs.

    I am a bit impressed that the legislature is willing to slash flagship budgets – here the flagship is completely protected, even as the rest of the fleet is sinking…


  18. I’m impressed that you’re impressed, Jeremy. I’d have thought you’d have heard of such a thing before! I don’t know what Southern state you live in, but I do know (pretty much off the top of my head) that by making sure your state’s flagship is “completely protected” your legislature is behaving *totally unlike* those of AL, FL, GA, KY, MS, NC, SC, and TN.


  19. (As, of course, are your state’s regents/governors/trustees. In fact, it’s even a bit odd that your legislators are so darn *specific* about protecting your flagship’s budget. Most legislatures are pretty lazy and just require cuts from the system, preferring to let the governing body handle the ugly negotiations and referee the fights between institutions.)

    Less sarcastically: I’m all for saying that flagships are comparatively privileged, have more clout to throw around, and therefore may receive preferential treatment. Being “impressed” that they, too, are being cut (true of every flagship I know, and the perception of non-instructional, i.e. unnecessary programs proliferating at R1s actually can make their programs a target and an excuse for punishing them more harshly with cuts) is another story. Being impressed at ANY education budget being cut, ever, reminds me of crabs in a pot.


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