Faculty members call university housing program misleading
May 4, 2017
The university faculty housing program is coming under fire after some staff members have labeled the the program a fraud.
According to Tricia Serviss, an assistant professor of English who lives in a university-owned house, research from the Leavey School of Business found that some staff members are paying about 30 percent above market value for their homes.
In a March 22 letter addressed to upper-level university administrators, 99 faculty members said that high costs, lack of transparency and inadequate resources are all pressing issues that need to be addressed. The letter was signed by 29 faculty members who receive housing through the university, along with 70 allied faculty members.
The affected and allied faculty would like to see increased stipends, a freeze in rent hikes and more clarity about housing policies. The letter said that faculty members felt misinformed during the hiring process, adding that the Office of the Provost did not accurately portray the housing program.
Signees asserted that the benefits of a strong housing assistance program are “recruitment, engagement, promotion and retention of faculty,” adding that they expect the school to address weaknesses before facing the larger consequences of the current program.
The letter was addressed to President Fr. Michael Engh S.J., Provost Dennis Jacobs and all of the university deans.
“I think university housing is a reason people come to the university and I think it’s a reason people leave the university,” Serviss said.
She described the program as a “unique asset,” but added that newer faculty feel they are not getting the support they need. Serviss said that during her hiring process, the university suggested that the cost would be significantly below market value, but she never received exact numbers.
“We’d like the program to be more stable so you can depend on it and more transparent with how decisions are made,” Serviss said.
According to Robert Numan, a tenured psychology professor and Santa Clara’s chapter president of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), in order for the university to retain high-quality faculty,” the housing assistance program must be improved.
The university maintains two types of programs to assist new faculty members moving into the area. To support newly hired tenure or tenure-track faculty, the university offers a rental assistance program by providing monthly rent support.
The total monthly rental allowance is $800 this year, according to Senior Associate Provost for Research and Faculty Affairs Amy Shachter.
The university rents 96 units within walking distance of campus to faculty members, ranging from studios to three bedroom homes. According to the Office of the Provost, the rent is usually at the low end of market rates.
Priority for university-owned housing goes to new tenure and tenure-track faculty, than to lecturers and lastly to adjunct lecturers from out of the area.
The second program, known as purchase assistance, attempts to make purchasing single family homes in the Santa Clara area more affordable.
The program assists with mortgages and closing costs of purchasing a personal residence up to $120,000, according to Shachter.
While schools like Stanford University and those in the University of California system offer extensive programs that include large-scale properties and resources for local rentals, many smaller schools offer no program at all.
Even schools in high-cost areas such as Fordham University, Boston College and Seattle University offer no housing assistance to faculty members.
“We have probably one of the best housing assistance programs you’re going to find,” Shachter said. “What we really are seeing is that the California schools are really trying to deal with the situation because the housing market is just crazy here.”
Stanford University, on the other hand, owns a large amount of property and sells homes on the land to professors. Shachter said that Stanford operates on an “entirely different level” because of their accessible resources.
The University of California, Davis, a school with large scale state funding, plans to build an entire faculty community by 2018 that will consist of 50 homes.
At a town hall meeting in February, the Office of the Provost listened to faculty concerns about the programs and they plan to host a second event in May to communicate information about possible changes to the program.
“The reality is the budget is tight so we are going to need to be creative, but also realistic in what we can do,” Shachter said. “It’s a high priority for our office but it’s a difficult time for the university financially.”
The leadership of the program, including Shacter and the Office of the Provost, also hope to improve transparency by providing deans with accurate data on school-owned rentals, including projected rental rates, in order to make the hiring process more informative.
Shachter said that new faculty should also do research in order to better understand the Bay Area housing market.
The letter was initially met with no response from the administration, according to Numan.
It was then sent out via email to the larger faculty community and will be brought in front of the full Faculty Senate on May 10.
The Senate will vote whether to send the resolution to the Faculty Affairs committee.
“This took forever to come to the attention of people and I think all the parts involved didn’t know that everyone was upset,” Serviss said.
In February, Shachter responded to the faculty concerns, saying the Office of the Provost will be working with property management to create a more transparent relationship.
“Just putting it on the Senate agenda and having the faculty speak with a voice should make a difference,” said Faculty Senate President Diane Dreher.
Contact Sophie Pollock at spollock@scu. edu.