Public discussion earlier this year on the growth of Stanford’s administrative staff was misleading and simplistic, as it failed to recognize the complexity and breadth of Stanford, which essentially operates as a municipality, Provost Persis Drell told the Faculty Senate during her annual budget report on Thursday.

When properly accounted for, staff growth has in fact been measured and fully in keeping with the growth in operations that supports the university’s key activities, Drell said.

Drell explained that Stanford possesses several unique characteristics that require critical staff support: large land holdings; a rapidly growing medical enterprise; the Stanford Research Park, a business park focused on research and development; and substantial housing for faculty and students.

Staff growth has primarily come from the School of Medicine, which in the last five years has seen a 5.6% per year staff growth rate, greatly exceeding that of the rest of the university at 1.7% per year. This influx was driven by increasing clinical activities with the opening of the new hospital and expanding research programs. This has been accompanied by growth in the number of faculty, clinician educators, graduate students, and postdocs in the School of Medicine, which increased the need for administrative support.

It’s also important to understand how Stanford defines terms used in headcount growth since those definitions vary widely among research universities, Drell noted. For example, clinician educators, which have grown significantly in number, are categorized as “staff” at Stanford, while at other universities they are often counted as “faculty.” In addition, and in contrast to many other institutions, Stanford has chosen to focus more on hiring staff in many areas rather than using outside contractors whose employees would not count as Stanford staff.

Staff growth outside the School of Medicine has been volatile through the period of the pandemic, Drell said. Most staff numbers actually contracted during the pandemic years with attrition and layoffs. However, in some areas, such as Residential & Dining Enterprises, there has been significant recent growth to accommodate the fall 2022 arrival of an incoming first-year undergraduate class that was more than 20% larger than classes in prior years. In addition, with the opening of the Escondido Village Graduate Residences in 2020, about 2,000 more graduate students are living on campus. Staff growth reflects these trends, Drell said.