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Regents amend UH sabbatical policy

By COLIN M. STEWART

Tribune-Herald staff writer

University of Hawaii regents voted unanimously Thursday morning to place restrictions on paid leave taken by executives.

Known officially as “professional improvement leave,” the university system’s sabbatical policy allowed executives and managers to take leave with full pay for up to 12 months for professional improvement purposes. The reasoning for the policy, Board of Regents members said, was for executives to get away from the campus setting to explore other interests and studies that would benefit the university upon their return.

Former UH-Hilo Chancellor Rose Tseng took such a sabbatical beginning in June 2010 after handing over the campus’ reins to current Chancellor Donald Straney. She continued to earn her salary of $284,000, and then returned to the campus the following year at a reduced salary of $187,596 as a professor in the College of Pharmacy.

The university’s sabbatical policy has drawn some criticism during a time of tight budgetary constraints for the state, which led to the decision to consider amendments to the policy, according to a Feb. 12 memorandum by Coralie Chun Matayoshi, chairwoman of the Board of Regents Committee on Personnel Affairs.

“The purpose of this request is to amend policy to reflect practices that may be more appropriate for the University, especially in light of the current fiscal climate,” she wrote. “First, the request is to amend current policy language regarding the purpose, duration, compensation, and return service obligation for executive and managerial employees who are granted professional improvement leave. Second, a new provision is being recommended to address executive and managerial personnel who are granted or placed on other leaves of absence, with or without pay, including those for leave pending an investigation.”

According to the amendments approved at Thursday’s meeting held on the UH-Hilo campus, executives will be afforded up to six months of leave at full pay, or 12 months at half pay. That pay would be based on the position to be taken up upon the individual’s return.

“For example,” the new policy states, “if the individual will return to an executive and managerial position, the leave may be taken at the current executive and managerial salary, however, if the individual will return to a faculty position, the leave shall be taken at the appropriate faculty salary for the faculty position.”

The new guidelines also require than an employee granted leave with pay for professional improvement agree to return to service at the university. The length of that return would correspond with requirements laid out in the faculty collective bargaining agreement.

A similar provision was already in place at the time when Tseng applied for her sabbatical, although it required a returning individual to remain at the university for at least the same duration as the leave. Initially, however, Tseng requested that the UH Board of Regents waive that policy.

Regents denied her waiver, and shortly thereafter, she said she experienced a change of heart, and decided to return to UHH.

“I changed my mind,” she said in 2010. “I decided I am still young …”

The UH system says its sabbatical policy puts it in line with 11 out of 24 similar “peer institutions.”

In her memo, Matayoshi explained that the new policy would clarify that the intent of professional improvement leave is “a privilege that is not generally afforded to employees in other sectors. Its purpose is first and foremost to advance the University by enhancing the employee’s performance in supporting University programs or enabling the employee to prepare to assume or resume faculty or professional duties after significant administrative service.”

Board of Regents members voted to approve the measure Thursday morning with virtually no discussion. The vote was unanimous.

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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