Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Borrowing your demagoguery

The trouble with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is that he's just so very unoriginal.

He stole his name from Bobby Brady and
The Brady Bunch. He stole his response to President Obama's 2009 congressional address from Mister Rogers.

And now he's stolen the bright idea of demagoguing university sabbaticals from the Iowa Republican Party. He picked up that idea, no doubt, during all the time he's spent in the Hawkeye State -- as opposed to his own.

In November, as reported by The Daily Reveille, this was the Jindal Administration's party line against such "bad values in education" as the state's flagship university, LSU:

State Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater says Gov. Bobby Jindal's office is looking into University faculty workloads to see if students are getting the best return for their tuition.

"It's important to make sure resources are focused on the classroom and the students and taxpayers get the most value from investments," Rainwater said.

Rainwater said instructors in the LSU System are teaching 77 percent more credit hours than tenured professors. Instructors at the Baton Rouge campus teach 133 percent more, he said.

One area where faculty members do less teaching than instructors is in sabbaticals — a leave of absence to focus on research, writing or acquiring new knowledge. Rainwater said tenured faculty earn the right to have a sabbatical but not during a budget crunch.

"At a time when we're facing a very large deficit, I think it's important that we justify what sabbaticals are taken," Rainwater said.

NOT ONLY is Jindal unoriginal, he's milquetoasty. He's an Iowa Republican watered down to the point of BLECCH!

Watered down and nine months late.

In February, the Republicans in the Iowa House sought to eliminate every single sabbatical at its regents universities -- Iowa, Iowa State and Northern Iowa -- for the next year at a savings of . . .
$6 million.

The Iowa Board of Regents had considered canceling sabbaticals in December 2009, but ultimately decided such a move would harm recruitment and retention of faculty, as well as create disruptions in research and a logjam of future sabbatical requests. There were 111 requests for sabbaticals across the three universities for the 2010-11 academic year -- down 25 percent from the previous year.

The University of Iowa led the pack with 52 sabbaticals for professors. Iowa State requested 37 and Northern Iowa 18.

A year later, the ascendant Iowa Republicans are at it again. The state's GOP lawmakers propose -- again -- banning all university sabbaticals. And the new House speaker, Kraig Paulsen, is leading the charge against the eggheads, saying taxpayers just can't afford to give profs a paid "year off."

From an Associated Press article Wednesday:

But professors said the savings Republicans are promising won't materialize, and the move would cost universities in grant money and productivity.

Sabbaticals -- a paid semester or year off from teaching to write books, conduct research, create classes and write grant proposals -- are standard practice at major research universities across the nation. But at a time when other employees are facing pay cuts and furloughs, they have become an easy target for critics and an area where universities can cut to show they are making sacrifices, too.

Several schools across the country have already reduced or canceled sabbaticals, according to the American Association of University Professors. The University of Iowa has cut its sabbaticals in half over two years.

John Curtis, director of research and public policy for AAUP, said he was unaware of any case where lawmakers rather than schools themselves have cut sabbaticals, and he doubted that it would become a trend because of the tiny amount of potential savings.

"I'm sure they feel it has great symbolic value," he said. "But the loss, of course, is what the whole purpose of sabbatical is: to allow faculty members to do research, to engage in understanding new developments in their discipline and then to bring all of that back to their teaching."

A potential fight is already brewing in Iowa, where its three public universities have asked the Board of Regents to approve sabbaticals for professors in the budget year that begins July 1. Details are expected to be made public Thursday.

The regents could approve the requests next week, but Paulsen said they should allow for public debate on the plan to cancel them first.

"It seems to be tough budgetary times. Why should the taxpayers of Iowa be paying to basically give these folks a year off from teaching?" asked Paulsen, a Hiawatha Republican who will lead a chamber that flipped to Republican control in November. "It's as simple as that."

Board of Regents President David Miles said through a spokeswoman that he will withhold comment until next week's meeting. Last year, he urged presidents of the three public universities to ensure any sabbaticals "serve to enhance the core missions of the universities."

The University of Iowa has asked the regents to approve 58 sabbaticals for next year, a slight increase after two years of sharp cuts, said Faculty Senate President Edwin Dove, who defended the practice. UI professors wrote 26 books in 2009 while on sabbatical, published 147 research articles, created and updated nearly 100 classes, and submitted 50 grant applications, Dove said.

SO IN IOWA, we have a debate over highly debatable savings in the mid-seven-figure range. But hang on a second:
House Republicans have said their plan would save $6 million and be part of a budget-cutting package introduced next year. But their projected savings apparently includes salaries that professors will earn whether they are on sabbatical or not. The actual savings would be the roughly $250,000 universities spend to hire replacement teachers, university officials said.
THE STATE'S GOP legislative contingent would appear to be disingenuous here, at a minimum. Some might say they're just playing the booboisie for a bunch of suckers, trying to appear as if they're doing something while proposing next to nothing.

At a minimum.

So, back in Louisiana, what to make of Jindal's quixotic demonizing of LSU professors?

Well, let me put it this way: Remember the number of sabbaticals Iowans have been fighting over? Keep that figure -- 111 . . . 50-something of that total at UI -- in mind.

This year, LSU has 19 professors on sabbatical. Nineteen.


One less than 20.

That's what the Jindal Administration has seen fit to harp over whenever someone frets about a worst-case $60-something million cut to Louisiana's flagship university next year. We're probably not even talking about a million bucks in highly debatable savings, here.

One thing, however, has become crystal clear. What Louisiana's absentee governor lacks in the originality or comprehensiveness of his demagoguery, he certainly makes up in audacity.

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