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Stanford Report, April 12, 2000

Top alumni volunteers briefed on high-tech boom's ramifications for university

BY MARK SHWARTZ

Stanford's top volunteers were recognized during a special two-day conference hosted by the Alumni Association last weekend.

The event, known as STARS -- Saluting Top Alumni Representatives at Stanford -- brought together 175 alumni and other individuals from 21 states, Hong Kong and Japan.

Delegates were selected for their outstanding volunteer work on behalf of the university in a variety of areas including Major Gifts, the Athletics Department, the School of Earth Sciences and the Library Advisory Council.

STARS delegates crowded into the Gold Lounge at the Faculty Club on April 7 to hear remarks by former U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher (Stanford Law School, 1949) and President Gerhard Casper, followed by a panel discussion called "Behind the Headlines: The Tough Issues Facing Stanford," moderated by former university President Richard Lyman.

An underlying theme of the discussion was how the phenomenal hi-tech boom pioneered by Stanford ironically has transformed Silicon Valley into a place that is too expensive for many prospective university employees to live.

Several speakers warned that the campus could lose its ability to recruit high-quality professors unless it figures out a way to make living here more affordable.

"Housing plays a critical role in our ability to compete for the best faculty and staff," said panelist Franklin M. Orr Jr., the Chester Naramore Dean of the School of Earth Sciences.

Orr pointed out that the cost of buying a home is the first subject that comes up when he interviews faculty candidates.

"We cannot insulate the campus from the price of housing in the region," Orr said, noting that the average three-bedroom, two-bath home in Palo Alto costs around one million dollars.

He added that the university already provides millions of dollars in low-interest housing loans and other types of mortgage assistance to prospective faculty members, and that the administration hopes to alleviate some of the housing pressures by building 300 to 600 new faculty residences as part of its 10-year Community Development Plan.

Panelist Larry Horton, university director of Government and Community Relations, said the controversial development plan also calls for new student and staff housing, as well as the construction of two million square feet of additional academic facilities.

Acknowledging opposition to new development on campus, Horton said he is optimistic that the plan will gain approval from Santa Clara County officials because of the Stanford's solid record of land stewardship.

He urged STARS delegates to write letters and arrange meetings with local residents to convince them of the long-term wisdom of new construction.

"I think we should contact all of these people, even if they don't agree with us," Horton said. "We have a terrific story."

In addition to the exorbitant price of housing, new faculty and staff are confronted with other costly living expenses, including childcare, said panelist Patricia P. Jones, vice provost for Faculty development and professor of biological sciences.

"This is especially stressful to our junior faculty," Jones said, adding that many new professors are asking whether the university's reputation for excellence is worth the stress they're facing from the high cost of living in the Bay Area.

On April 8, STARS delegates attended panel discussions on the impact of technology on the university and the future of undergraduate education.

"The purpose of the STARS conference is to make these top leaders feel they are valued by the university and to keep them informed," said Barbara Hart, who serves on the Alumni Association's board of directors.

She noted that last week's meeting was the inaugural STARS conference, and that the Alumni Association hopes to sponsor future events for outstanding volunteers. SR