University News

U. aims to grow faculty research

Should the Corporation approve Paxson’s strategic plan, sabbatical reforms may go into effect

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, October 10, 2013

A post-tenure sabbatical policy, changes to the academic calendar and streamlined research reporting procedures are among possible new endeavors intended to increase support for faculty research, said Dean of the Faculty Kevin McLaughlin P’12.

The projects would come out of President Christina Paxson’s strategic plan, released to the campus Sept. 18. In the draft of the plan, Paxson addressed “building the research environment” as a priority and often referred to Brown as a “research university.”

Though the reforms are meant to increase support for faculty research, some questioned whether they would have a significant effect.

Should the Corporation — the University’s highest governing body — approve the plan, a proposal for a post-tenure sabbatical is one that the administration would most likely implement, McLaughlin said.

There are currently two sabbatical policies for assistant professors and tenured faculty members, McLaughlin said. Assistant professors take a one-semester sabbatical at full pay, usually during their third year. After being promoted to a tenured position, professors are eligible for a one-semester sabbatical after six semesters at the University, during which they earn 75 percent of their salaries. Alternatively, they may wait to be eligible for a one-semester sabbatical at full pay after 12 semesters.

The post-tenure sabbatical proposal would allow newly tenured faculty members to take their first sabbatical at full pay, McLaughlin said.

The tenure process requires faculty members to fill out documentation of their work to demonstrate that they are in the middle of “research with promise,” he said.

“Many newly tenured faculty cannot afford to take a 25 percent pay cut,” he said, adding that as a result they must wait longer to take a sabbatical, and their research suffers.

“That is more of a problem for the humanities,” said Steven Reiss, professor of computer science, adding that scholars in the hard sciences can make up the money easily by taking outside jobs for short spans of time during sabbaticals.

“Sabbaticals are really important,” McLaughlin said. “They allow for faculty to refresh and expand their research, which improves the quality of teaching.”

Though in the past, many faculty members have voiced concern that recent tenure reforms could favor research over teaching, McLaughlin said he does not believe this is a problem under current tenure policies. He added that the University’s increasing support for research would not lead to any additional tenure reforms.

“Tenure is a well-defined process and there would be a lot of deliberation” before any changes were made, said David Savitz, vice president for research. “I don’t know if (reforms are) needed,” he added.

Other ideas introduced in the strategic plan include changes to the academic calendar, which would rearrange weekly class schedules and possibly open up a winter session for intensive course offerings, McLaughlin said.

“We are somewhat locked into a Monday-Wednesday-Friday grid,” he said, which makes it harder for some faculty members to participate in academic conferences.

“Faculty members prefer twice a week courses, and there aren’t enough of them,” Reiss said.

Reiss added that a winter session would only be popular among faculty members if students take advantage of the offerings and enroll.

Savitz said his office is exploring the idea of aiding professors in simplifying the process of reporting research they have conducted.

“We want to make sure that faculty are optimally using their time,” McLaughlin said.

But Reiss said he did not see how the proposed changes would help support faculty research. For instance, the 25 percent sabbatical pay cut is not much of an issue for many faculty members, he said, and the success of academic calendar changes is largely contingent on student response.

Rather, Reiss said, the University should provide additional support for faculty members filling out grant applications.

“Brown is more likely to get in your way when you’re writing a grant than to help you,” he said.

Research funding is changing as federal funding from institutions like the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation becomes more difficult to attain, Savitz said.

Savitz added that though the mechanisms for attaining funding will have to become more flexible, they will not change the goals for University research.

The details of the strategic plan’s proposals will have to be determined at a later time, Savitz said, adding that the support for research “is not a fundamental change, but a small shift in priorities.”

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