IOWA CITY, Iowa — Under pressure to cut costs, state universities and lawmakers across the nation are going after one of the oldest traditions in the academic world: the professor's cherished sabbatical.
Professors often use the paid breaks from teaching to write books, develop new courses or collaborate with colleagues around the world. But the practice is increasingly being questioned by critics who say it offers little more than a paid vacation at a time when other public employees are being furloughed or laid off.
"Why should the taxpayers of Iowa be paying to basically give these folks a year off from teaching?" asked incoming House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, a Republican whose party won control of the chamber in November.
The University of Iowa has already cut its sabbaticals in half over the last two years. Paulsen and other GOP leaders have proposed canceling them completely for a year.
At other schools, sabbaticals have been postponed or eliminated. Truman State University in Missouri abolished sabbaticals for the budget year that begins July 1 because of expected shortfalls, provost Richard Coughlin said.
In Louisiana, Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal slashed higher education budgets last month, including sabbaticals. He said cutting back on the leaves of absence might "force professors to actually spend more time in the classrooms teaching and interacting with students."
Defenders of sabbaticals, which are typically awarded every five to seven years, say some of the criticism stems from a misunderstanding of professors' jobs. Professors, they say, are not just teachers but also scholars. Sabbaticals, they contend, are critical to advancing research, winning grants, publishing books and keeping up with the latest developments in their fields.