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Stanford Report, March 8, 2000

What housing crisis?


I am writing concerning the front-page story in the Feb. 23 Stanford Report under the headline "Housing crunch may affect faculty for years to come." The article reports Pat Jones' important effort to understand and respond to those factors that negatively impact faculty recruitment and retention. The headline certainly sounds ominous; however, examination of the experimental data collected by Vice Provost Jones' office and presented further in the article suggests that housing was not a major issue for faculty recruitment and retention. What is even more remarkable is that despite these experimental findings, Professor Jones and others in the university administration adopt the view that the findings are irrelevant: They just know that this is "the tip of the iceberg" and a "crisis."

It seems to me that the headline should read "Survey finds that housing is not a major issue for faculty recruiting" and rejoice at the success of the Stanford housing programs. There is no doubt that the cost of living in this area, especially for housing, but also including day care and many other aspects of daily life, is obscenely high. Stanford is to be congratulated that it has been so successful in dealing with the extremely high cost of housing, so much so that this is not perceived to be a massive problem by most faculty who didn't come or chose to leave. What I don't understand is why the university administration continues to declare, especially to residents of surrounding communities and in the General Use Permit negotiations with county officials, that further faculty housing development on campus is such a critical issue for faculty recruitment. The emphasis should be on those issues that were prominent in the survey conducted by Professor Jones: opportunities for spouses, improved day care, the quality of support and infrastructure for faculty in teaching and research, and the overall quality of life for faculty. For example, overdeveloping the faculty housing area will reduce the quality of life for the substantial fraction of the faculty that resides on campus.

The reason we do these surveys is to learn something. I hope the university listens carefully to the insights provided by faculty who have left and recruits who decided not to come, rather than promoting an agenda that runs against the interests of many current faculty.

Professor of Chemistry