Provost walks tightrope, balancing funding and faculty research

During Grand Valley State University’s Executive Committee of the Senate meeting on Friday, Provost Gayle Davis emphasized once again that sabbaticals are “not a given” as the committee discussed a newly imposed limit to the paid research leaves. Although sabbaticals are listed in the Administrative Manual as a faculty benefit, Davis said they still need to be approved based on certain criteria.

But even professors meeting all the qualifications might see their leaves postponed due to limited 1university funding.

In conjunction with the Research and Development Committee, Davis is working to revise the policy on sabbaticals, calling the current one a contradiction between funding and staffing.

“We really need to fix our policy,” she said. “We hope to have new policy to come and show (ECS) in the next month or so.”

Davis added that the new policy would need ECS cooperation and support to be effective.

Brian Lakey, a psychology professor at GVSU, acknowledged the importance of policies and procedures but explained that other things are also necessary to become a better university.

“I’m convinced we have the caring about teaching down,” Lakey said. “But I’m not convinced we have the caring about scholarship down. Sabbaticals must be preserved at all costs.”

In response to this point, Davis said the ECS needs to look at the big picture to see that there needs to be a balance between funding and staffing. For the first time, a cap has been placed on the number of sabbaticals that can be granted. Only 65 per year will be offered due to limited funds, said Davis.

According to section 2.3 of the Administrative Manual, faculty receive full salary when on leave for one academic semester, and 50 percent of their base salary when on leave for two academic semesters. In addition, the university must hire adjunct faculty to cover their classes, which costs $3,000 to $4,000 per course, depending on the discipline.

“I think we have to look at more than just Grand Valley,” Davis said. “We have to look at where we’ve been, who we are and what are the best practices in our industry. I’d love to find some more ways to have people have possible leaves for research.”

In a recent letter to the editor printed on Jan. 20, a sabbatical was defined as “a focused time for scholarship or creative exploration in the faculty member’s field.” The letter was a collaboration between six professors from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Several were guests at the ECS meeting to discuss the points they had made, particularly the importance of sabbaticals for both students and professors.

“We are expressing how important we think sabbaticals are to the university’s mission and to our role as teachers, our role as researchers and as scholars,” history professor Paul Murphy said. “It falls under the GVSU philosophy of shared governance.”

Murphy presented his idea to form a task force to answer questions about funding, which he said is the main issue with providing sabbaticals. He said there are two main questions the ECS should address: How does the university determine that there is inadequate funding, and how can the faculty deal with it?

“The policy is the balancing of different interests and different missions in the university, and even different ways to support research,” Murphy said.

Dan Golembeski, modern languages and literatures professor, expressed his concern that faculty need to be included in making decisions involving inadequate funding because these decisions will affect them.

“There is no mechanism to explain what inadequate funding is,” he said. “There’s no task force. The administration really has to take it seriously that faculty, staff, even students be included in decision processes.”

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