Some universities and colleges have canceled faculty sabbaticals in this time of economic crisis. Eliminating sabbaticals may save an institution money, especially if it is the policy of the institution to provide full salary to faculty on leave. That conclusion ignores aspects of sabbatical economics that are more difficult to quantify (e.g., more creativity, more grants, more publications, less burnout), but eliminating full-pay leave and avoiding the need to hire replacements makes economic sense in the short term.
Canceling sabbaticals, however, makes little to no sense for institutions that provide only partial salary support for faculty on leave, particularly if an institution is large enough that there isn't a need to hire a replacement to teach the courses of the faculty member on leave. In that case, canceling sabbaticals costs the institution money. Here's how that works:
Let's say a university pays its faculty 50% of their salary during a sabbatical; this is a typical amount at many US institutions for a full-year sabbatical. That is 50% of a 9 month salary, so the faculty member on sabbatical gets 4.5 months of salary for the year.
This ~50% makes sense because, in theory, about half of a professor's job (at an R1 university) is research and the other half is teaching (let's ignore 'service' for now). We therefore get paid for the research component of our job while on sabbatical, but we don't get paid for teaching.
This ~50% salary issue, though, is one reason why many professors don't go on sabbatical. I think many faculty have taken a one-term (full-pay) leave when available, but the number who take the full-year half-pay option is considerably less.
In any case, for full-year, half-pay sabbaticals, the institution gets the other 4.5 months of salary. If no replacement is hired, a department (or central administration) can use that money for other things. Even if a replacement is hired to teach some or all of the sabbatical professor's courses, the replacement's salary will likely not be more than the equivalent of the 4.5 months for the sabbatical professor, and may be less. The department either makes money or breaks even.
When I am planning a sabbatical, I request academic year salary in grants to cover at least part of the salary I do not get from my institution while I am on leave. As usual with many grants, the university gets indirect costs (a.k.a. 'overhead' or 'facilities & administration') from the grant, and this is typically 50-60% of the total grant award.
Therefore, the university saves money in salary during my sabbatical -- for my last sabbatical, no replacement was hired, so my department got to keep half of my salary -- and makes additional money from any grants associated with the sabbatical. I try to get grants anyway, of course, even when not on sabbatical, but I do more proposal-writing before and during a sabbatical.
So far, I have just been talking about the basic costs of a sabbatical, but sabbaticals also benefit institutions in other ways that matter: e.g. to university rankings (publications, other scholarly activities, faculty recruitment and retention). It is short-sighted to ignore those factors, even in an economic crisis.
At my institution, we have to apply for a sabbatical and present a research plan for the sabbatical year; just taking a year off, even at half pay, is not considered an acceptable use of a sabbatical. Many of us get a lot of work done while on sabbatical; it's just that the work is research (and of course advising, even if from afar), and not classroom teaching or institutional service.
So, why eliminate sabbaticals if they benefit a university, economically and otherwise? Why would a university implement a policy that results in loss of money, prestige, and perhaps faculty? I think there are two general reasons: (1) misunderstanding of what sabbaticals are (and their economics), and (2) an inability or unwillingness to explain the benefits of sabbaticals to politicians and others. A university or state legislature may get political points for canceling sabbaticals if sabbaticals are seen as paid "time off" for professors. Professors are hired to teach, so why should we get a year off from teaching?
Sabbaticals are definitely a special aspect of this job. Although I work hard to raise money for research and salary for my sabbaticals and I work very hard when on sabbatical, I still appreciate how fortunate I am to have a job with the option of sabbaticals.
This is (obviously) not a profound analysis of sabbatical economics, and I will write more about the general topic of sabbaticals in the near future, but for today, my main points are:
- We professors are lucky to have sabbaticals,
- even though many of us don't get paid a full salary for that year,
- but that's OK because we use the time well,
- providing economic and other benefits to our institutions, departments, research groups, and
- getting intellectually and psychically recharged so that we continue to do all aspects of our jobs as well as possible.
23 hours ago