Keeping more professors in class

GVSU limits faculty sabbaticals

By Carly Simpson | 12/1/13 6:40pm

For the first time in Grand Valley State University’s history, the number of sabbaticals granted to faculty is being restricted due to financing.

Over the past five years, there has been an average of 65 sabbatical proposals submitted each year, said Gayle Davis, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at GVSU. This year, there were 77 new proposals, along with four that were carried over from 2012.

“I’m scrounging to find if we can keep our finances working in our division,” Davis said. “Why would the lowest funded place in the universe give out two or three times the number of sabbaticals that other schools do?”

Most schools limit the number of sabbaticals granted to 3 or 4 percent of the faculty. GVSU is at 7.7 percent.

“If we had gone ahead with the 81 sabbatical proposals this year, that’s nearly one-tenth of our faculty gone either one or two semesters next year,” Davis said.

GVSU’s peer schools granted sabbaticals to a smaller faculty population. Appalachian State University came closest by granting 5 percent. Eastern Michigan University is at 3. 5 percent, and Ferris State University gave sabbaticals to 2.75 percent of faculty.

“I think in terms of our comparison universities, we want to be better than them. We don’t want to be as good,” said Brian Lakey, professor of psychology at GVSU. “I realize finances constrain that, but I think sabbaticals prove the quality of the university if they are going to the right people.”

The additional 16 sabbaticals would cost the university about $180,000, Davis said. When a professor takes a sabbatical, adjunct faculty must be hired to cover their courses, which costs $3,000 to $4,000 per course, depending on the discipline.

“I’m not going to cut back from the benchmark of 65, but this infinitely growing number is just not sustainable,” Davis said. “That’s the sorry story.”

Robert Hollister, the chair of the Faculty Salary and Budget Committee, said there is money to be given, but it’s just a matter of priority.

The cost must be measured in another way, too. GVSU’s goal is to have 70 to 75 percent of the total credit hours taught by tenured faculty or affiliates; in other words, classes should be led by returning, full-time professors. More than 300 faculty members have been hired in the past decade, and the university is continuing to hire, but GVSU is still not close to reaching that goal, Davis said.

“It’s a puzzle, a Rubik’s Cube,” she said. “There are many pieces that work for and against our goals, and we need to get them working all for our goal.”

This year, a new selection process for sabbaticals will be used as specified in the Administrative Manual, which provides instructions for when the number of sabbaticals recommended requires greater funding than what’s available.

Proposals will first be ranked by the appropriate College Personnel Committee. They will then be sent to the Research and Development Committee to determine an overall ranking to be sent to the provost for approval.

Some faculty members have said that they feel cheated by the system this year.

At GVSU, though, sabbaticals have never been a right—always a privilege.

“We had a dean who sent out an email to his faculty saying ‘sabbaticals are no longer automatic,’” Davis said. “I nearly had a cow. They’ve never been automatic, but that’s how we’ve been treating them—as this given, this right, this ‘every seven years, my just dessert.’ That is not what it is.”

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