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Stanford Report, February 23, 2000

Housing crunch may affect faculty for years to come


With the Bay Area’s housing costs spiraling, palm trees and endless strings of sunny days may no longer be the enticements they once were in recruiting and retaining faculty members. That was one of the conclusions that emerged from a wide-ranging discussion last week at the Faculty Senate.

"Location is an issue that still, we hope, is attractive. This is a good location," said Pat Jones, newly appointed vice provost for faculty development. "Though, if one lives farther away and commuting becomes an issue, the location may not be as much of a plus."

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Jones presented some data that, she said, indicated that the effects of escalating housing costs on recruitment and retention may just be the "tip of the iceberg." During more than an hour of discussion, faculty members repeatedly stressed the importance of addressing recruitment and retention issues by doing more than just throwing money at the problem. While money is certainly necessary, they said, retention problems should be addressed before faculty members get offers from other institutions.

Moreover, they said, the university needs to do more to cultivate a sense of collegiality in all departments and schools that can go a long way in encouraging a potential recruit to come to work here.

Jones presented some figures on recruitment and retention from the 1998-99 academic year. They indicated that during that year 141 faculty were successfully recruited, while efforts to recruit 93 faculty and retain 40 faculty were unsuccessful.

Of the faculty Stanford was unable to recruit, 15 listed housing as the major reason.

"I think one of the most interesting points is really what isn't indicated by these data, which is that housing is not yet a major factor in decisions made as of last year in recruitment or retention," Jones said. "And so this really still is a small number."

But she also noted that 16 of the faculty who could not be recruited cited the related factor of "salary/cost of living" as a reason. And she added that "we all know of colleagues who have decided either not to come or have left because housing was a major issue. And we certainly know of colleagues, especially younger colleagues, not only assistant professors, but some recently tenured associate professors, who are now having families and want larger homes, and this is really having a dramatic effect on quality of life."

The housing issue, she said, points out not only the need to offer attractive housing packages to new faculty but also "it means we should be paying attention to some of these individual factors where we do have some control over the kind of environment we have, how we are viewed by people on the outside we might like to recruit."

Jones said the departments and the university as a whole need to focus more on making Stanford "a place that is supportive as well as a place of outstanding scholarship and commitment to teaching." In addition, Stanford probably could do a better job at recognizing and rewarding faculty members at the time they are awarded tenure, possibly by offering housing money when growing families need to move into larger houses.

While putting emphasis on different points, faculty members had little argument with what Jones had to say.

Robert Simoni, biological sciences, said he has a "special concern about retentions" because losing a faculty member "is an enormously costly event. It would be nice to understand what the full cost of that is."

Richard Popp, senior associate dean at the Medical School, said he is especially concerned at those who leave Stanford "unhappy. . . . A lot of that comes back to the feeling that people aren't interested in them. They don't feel a collegial community," he said.

President Gerhard Casper seized on that point as well, saying departments needed to be "really good places where people want to be and can interact with their colleagues and where their colleagues are interested in them and read their books and their articles and give them comments, including critical comments. . . . If we are attentive to all of that, I think we can come a long way."

Roger Noll, economics, urged his colleagues not to address the cost-of-living issue with a "scattershot" approach. He argued that Stanford, relative to its competitors, has done "extraordinarily well in recruitment and retention during the 1990s. By any measure you want to make, Stanford's relative faculty strength in the year 2000 compared to the year 1990 is substantially stronger.

"How did that come about? In part because we raised one hell of a lot of money," Noll said. "The real question is the sustainability of our current policies over the course of a decade to retain the quality of faculty that we currently have."

He added to the chorus of statements about the importance of a collegial atmosphere.

"There's an enormous amount of variance," depending on the department, he said. "And we spend incredibly little energy and effort learning from each other's experience.

"There are places on campus where the faculty get along, the departments work well. They're happy places and they're mutually supportive. And there are other places where people fight like cats and dogs. But we don't find a mechanism that targets that and solves it." SR