Sabbaticals under review

Carly Simpson

At Grand Valley State University, about 13 percent of faculty are approved for a sabbatical, said Provost Gayle Davis. This is much higher than the state norm of 2 to 3 percent.

Next year, the review process may be different, though, and result in decreased approved sabbaticals. During the meeting on Friday, the University Academic Senate voted to accept a university-wide review process.

The current policy states that sabbaticals are to be reviewed by the faculty research and development committee, which then submits its suggestions to the provost to make final decisions on funding. Next year, this task may be given to a newly created university sabbatical review committee.

The USRC would be made of seven members from FRDC as well as representatives from college personnel committees.There would be no more than three people from an individual college.

“We wanted better representation of the colleges in this process by establishing a fair and broad, university-wide review process,” said Merritt Taylor, the chair of the FRDC and associate professor of biomedical sciences. “By having CPC folks at the table, we hope that when we do this university-wide process, college personnel committee members can speak to the unique aspects of a particular proposal that’s been brought forward. I think this will create a much more transparent process.”

Currently, colleges only see the proposals submitted by their own faculty members, making it hard to understand the broader context while rating them.

“In research and development, we can see many proposals across the university and the diversity of the different types of proposals that are there,” Taylor said. “The challenge is that when you’re within a college, it’s harder to get a sense of what else is out there.”

The USRC’s rankings would be used by the provost when making funding decisions regarding sabbaticals.

Another change in the policy is eligibility. The proposed policy states that faculty members with an equivalent of six total years of full-time service will be eligible for sabbatical rather than six consecutive years. This will allow part-time tenured faculty to apply for a sabbatical.

The policy would also change the timeline for the submission and review of sabbaticals so that final decisions can be made before classes are scheduled. This will permit the affected faculty and their units to know the outcome of their review sooner to allow them to determine staffing needs.

The new timeline would require faculty members to submit their sabbatical proposals to their units by Sept. 1. The provost’s final decisions would be sent to the university president, the deans and the USRC by Dec. 1.

Other changes include a clear appeal process for proposals that are rejected and a tiered ranking system.

Taylor hopes the new language will also help to clear up current confusion about what is expected in a sabbatical proposal.

“The language will tell you what we are looking for, what you must include in your evidence of preparation, what you must include in your timeline and in your arrangements with other institutions,” he said. “Hopefully it will be more clear and transparent, and that can serve as a rubric for how you’re reviewed in the sabbatical proposals.”

Some faculty members have concerns with the proposal, though. If it passes, no priority will be given to proposals delayed due to funding, as had been done in the past. Instead, the faculty member will have the opportunity to resubmit their proposal to be reviewed again.

“The tone for the revision is more of a competition where this is an award like a grant, which research and development is familiar with doing, and I’m not sure that we are comfortable with that,” said Robert Hollister, the chair of FSBC and assistant professor of biology. “That was the biggest concern.”

Current language states that if someone meets the qualifications but there is not adequate funding, then they will get the sabbatical the following year, Hollister said.

“What we wanted to avoid happening was to have a weak or weakly competitive proposal trumping an excellent proposal coming up in the next year,” Taylor said.

Several other concerns were raised, such as who the USRC will report to and if the language regarding the policy should be placed in the administrative manual or the faculty handbook.

Due to these concerns, the FRDC will continue to work on this policy, which the UAS will review during its next meeting. It will be voted on again at that time.

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