Sabbaticals are an investment in a richer academic experience

In a time when government funding is being slashed, student dissatisfaction with tuition hikes is growing and the concept of making do with less is putting everyone on edge, it makes sense that universities — and their critics — would examine their budgets with a fine-tooth comb.

However, while many of those critics have set their sights on professor sabbaticals, arguing that universities shouldn’t use their limited resources to pay professors to not teach, those sabbaticals are worth more than a line item on a budget. Yes, those sabbaticals cost money up front — more than $23 million from all of the Michigan universities combined in 2004, according to a Detroit News article — but they pay that investment back by enriching students’ educational experiences.

Most students attend universities likes Grand Valley State University over online institutions because we want to learn from professors who have gone into the world and experienced other cultures and can bring that information back to the classroom. Learning about the Chinese economic system from a professor who is an expert in the field is good, but learning about the Chinese economic system from an expert professor who has had the opportunity to go to China and examine that system first-hand is even better. Those experiences give a richer understanding of their field, and that understanding translates to a better classroom experience for the student.

While it seems counterintuitive that not teaching could make for a better teacher, college courses and university curriculums are not closed off from the world. Many of these subjects are multicultural and multidimensional, and travelling outside of Allendale, Mich., can provide depth of understanding that might not otherwise be available without changing perspective.

The state’s budget woes are far from over, but GVSU has been right in its choice to not reduce the number of sabbaticals its professors take. With only 7.3 percent, or 61 of the 834 tenured and tenure-track professors, leaving each year, and with the majority of those only leaving for one semester, the time away is a small sacrifice to make for better classroom experiences for GVSU students.