Budget Cuts May Mean Reductions in Sabbatical Funding

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Cuts being made to next year’s budget may affect funding for faculty sabbaticals in a way that has some professors concerned about their ability to take academic leave in the coming school year. At this early stage of planning, no official decision has been made on whether the college will go forward with the cuts, or what the nature of the reduction will be.

According to Beth Rushing, Dean of Faculty, St. Mary’s currently allots over $300,000 to sabbatical benefits and salaries, as well as hiring temporary faculty to replace professors on leave. It is her hope that the college will be able to reduce the costs of faculty leave and replacement in a way that will mean the least possible disruption to students’ academic pursuits. One of the proposed solutions to reduce sabbatical spending would be to cover teachers on sabbatical at only 50% of their salary, a 20% reduction from normal sabbatical coverage. “I want to find ways to sustain our ability to offer sabbatical leaves, but within our more constrained budget. I’m confident we’ll be able to figure this out.” says Rushing.

Faculty are apprehensive about the potential reductions, not only because of how this may affect their ability to be compensated for sabbaticals and the course offerings for the coming academic year, but also because the cutbacks may mean having to scrap long term plans for sabbaticals, and shelve their initial research preparations. Dr. Katherina Von Kellenbach, professor of Religious Studies, expressed her frustration with how the cutbacks may impact her plans to take next year to work on her own research. “I would hope that the institution would make a commitment to maintain a sabbatical expense at 70% of the salary,” says Von Kellenbach in describing her hopes for the best scenario. “The third leg of our professional life is research and scholarship, and that takes a lot of time.”
Because of a reduction to sabbatical coverage, Von Kellenbach points out, more professors would probably take one semester sabbaticals as opposed to an academic year. “There is no way you can form that kind of long-term scholarship or research in one semester as opposed to having a full year,” she said, “and I think what that would mean is faculty would no longer be active as scholars in the field.”

Von Kellenbach also notes that decreasing funds for sabbaticals could potentially devalue the a student’s education if not handled properly. “What I would hope students appreciate is that we [professors] are not just transmitters of knowledge but producers of knowledge.” she remarks. She emphasizes that although having professors absent may seem in the immediate sense like a detraction from students’ academic experience. However, by having recognized experts in the field with a respected body of work as their instructors, the value of students’ academics increase exponentially. It is the hope of all that the issue of sabbatical funding will be resolved in a way that will be satisfactory to faculty and will create minimal impact upon student life.

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