Faculty union could address inconsistent sabbatical policies

When I received tenure in 2006, my “distinguished record of teaching and performance” was cited approvingly. In view of this recognition, it has been disappointing that subsequent efforts to obtain support for research activities have been unsuccessful. Three applications for semester leave or sabbatical in order to work on major research projects have been rejected despite approval by colleagues and School of Music directors.
 
I am not alone in this experience; I have heard from several other faculty members who have similarly been denied sabbatical leave. 
 
This disjunction between the mission of the University of Minnesota, the fine words of provosts about our value as faculty members and the lack of concrete support for our professional development is deeply troubling. At universities and colleges across the country and around the world, the value of granting opportunities to step back from classroom and administrative demands in order to conduct research is a given. 
 
Faculty members who are supported in research projects will not only teach well but also commit themselves to the mission of the University and contribute substantially to its reputation. Providing time and resources to connect with a world beyond our classrooms is essential to a healthy work environment and the long-term excellence of our faculty. 
 
The problem at our campus is twofold: a lack of transparency and fairness with respect to the process of granting sabbaticals and a diminishing pool of funds made available to support research. 
 
Tenure is an explicit acknowledgement of a faculty member’s value to the University, so we must have a policy in which sabbatical leave is a right, not a privilege. It must also be awarded equitably, not competitively, so that faculty members are not pitted against one another. 
 
After repeated attempts to address inequities through the Faculty Senate and other advisory bodies, it is clear that the administration has no intention of reforming its procedures. I am convinced that only a faculty union contract will empower us to create a more equitable system for granting sabbatical leaves — one that rewards excellence across all areas of faculty endeavor at the University.