Why do politicians thrust themselves into worlds that work just fine without them? Why do Republicans—who claim to favor unintrusive, small government—keep interfering without invitation? The latest instance is taking place in my home state, Iowa, where elected geniuses are threatening professors’ pursuit of improvement.
Never mind that, as part of budget consciousness, Iowa has reduced its sabbaticals by half over the last two years. Never mind that it costs only $422,283—for replacement teachers—per year. Heck, that doesn’t even buy enough attack ads to throw an election.
Never mind that, according to the Regents, that modest sabbatical investment last year yielded $5.2 million in grants. Wouldn’t you be in favor of an opportunity to increase your money ten-fold while upgrading your employees’ skills?
Nonetheless, a handful of pols have had it with spending money on University-sponsored research and study. They’ve declared a verbal war on the Regents—dubbing them “arrogant” for approving 95 requested sabbaticals at the three state university.
So naturally, they’ve threatened that the Regents could be “punished” for their vote. By that they probably mean fired—and then replaced by like nonthinking “leaders.” But that’s only the beginning.
When the obstreperous elephants flap their wings and jaws, it sounds something like this:
Why should the taxpayers of Iowa be paying to basically give these folks a year off from teaching?”
asks incoming House Speaker Kraig Paulsen (whose party just won power in November).
Clearly, Mr. Paulsen fails to value education—and the university system of three impressive schools that countless Iowans have created over the decades. His ignorance and desire to micro-manage apparently run so deep that he can’t consider that sabbaticals are a time for research, writing, collaboration, and innovation.
In fact, in 2009, according to the Associated Press, Iowa professors on sabbatical “published 147 research articles, created and updated nearly 100 classes, and submitted 50 grant applications.”
Oh and by the way, the new term—no doubt to pacify prying politicians—is “Professsional Development Assignnments.”
Some say sabbaticals can work wonders—thanks to the grants, new students (who seek out new, cutting-edge courses), and attention to the schools who still innovate. And it goes without saying that recruiting and retention matter, and the best teachers are going to seek out the campuses that care about growth.
Perhaps those things don’t matter in these terrible times. Not in Louisiana, where Republican governor Bobby Jindal is cutting higher-ed budgets in hopes that Louisiana’s universities might decrease sabbaticals and “force professors to actually spend more time in the classrooms teaching and interacting with students.”
Maybe not in Wisconsin too, where incoming Republicans are demanding to know how much sabbaticals cost and whether they’re valid or vacations. Kent State cancelled them too, but then reinstated them (after the faculty made some noise)—but with tighter monitoring.
Closed-minded lawmakers who thrive on negativity won’t listen, but thank goodness for people like John Curtis, of the American Association of University Professors, who calmly suggests:
the whole purpose of sabbatical is to allow faculty members to do research, to engage in understanding new developments in their discipline and then to bring all of that back to their teaching.”
Teaching. Remember when that was a priority? It seems that a lot of politicians have a lot to learn.