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Task Force aims to enhance affordability for Stanford affiliates

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

This article is the second in a four-part series on the University’s Long-Range Planning efforts.

As part of Stanford’s Long-Range Planning (LRP) process, the Affordability Task Force has begun developing a series of recommendations on improving affordability for faculty, staff, academic staff, graduate students and postdoctoral scholars. The Task Force, created this spring in response to complaints about the high cost of living in the Bay Area, will focus on improving housing, transportation, childcare and employee benefits.

The LRP process began two years ago, as students, faculty, staff and alumni submitted suggestions on how to improve Stanford. Community members submitted a total of 2,808 ideas, which were then synthesized into a set of white papers and presented to President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and his executive cabinet. In May, Tessier-Lavigne outlined a set of University initiatives – such as increasing the number of undergraduate students and enhancing support for community centers – based on the content of the white papers. The Affordability Task Force is one amongst a set of “design groups” created to help implement these initiatives.

At its kickoff meeting in late September, the Task Force clarified its organizational structure and set project timelines for the rest of the year. Vice President for Human Resources Elizabeth Zacharias chairs the Task Force, which is subdivided into different stakeholder teams, each of which reports to the Task Force Steering Committee every two weeks.

The Task Force is part of a broader University effort to address affordability, spurred in part by a LRP white paper report indicating many postdocs, staff and non-tenure-line educators felt like “second-class citizens” at Stanford. Undergraduate-focused affordability issues were not included within the scope of the Task Force’s agenda.

Among LRP initiatives that are already underway, the University has increased the minimum salary to $60,000 for fiscal year 2019 (FY19) and has also established a need-based Financial Hardship Fund to help with childcare and housing costs for postdocs. The University has also increased need-based financial assistance for graduate students who are parents, and is also in the process of expanding on-campus graduate housing. An “enhanced” loan program for faculty housing has been developed, while both academic and non-academic staff have seen salary increases for FY19, as well as expanded opportunities with satellite work centers and Work from Home policy.

However, affordability advocates said these changes are not enough.

“We greatly appreciate the support from these initiatives but these goals are not sufficient to alleviate the burdens caused by the extremely high cost of living in this region,” said Lise Retailleau on behalf of the Stanford University Postdoctoral Association.

She added that, even with the changes, most postdocs continue to spend the vast majority of their salary on housing costs and living expenses. In addition, many postdocs have said they have outstanding education loans that they are unable to pay back, leaving them reliant on subsidies from families or external programs.

We hope that the Affordability Task Force will recognize the unique challenges faced by Stanford postdocs and move forward with significant and permanent solutions to ease the financial burdens of academic service at Stanford,” Retailleau said.

Amy Tarangelo, a Ph.D. candidate in cancer biology, echoed similar sentiments for graduate affordability concerns. She told The Daily she does not believe current efforts to improve financial aid and on-campus housing for graduate students are sufficient.

“I think an important additional goal is not only [to] expand the quantity of on-campus housing, but to also control the costs of on-campus housing … Very few of the current on-campus housing options qualify as ‘affordable’ when compared with the median Ph.D. stipend,” Tarangelo said.

She also stressed the importance of addressing pay gaps in median stipend levels based on department, ethnicity, sexuality and parental status, as identified in a Graduate Student Council survey conducted last year.

The Graduate Student Council plans to address these issues in an Affordability Town Hall on Nov. 27.

The Affordability Task Force’s efforts to improve affordability coincide with efforts by local politicians and student groups to improve financial assistance for academic and non-academic staff.

Stanford Coalition for Planning an Equitable 2035 (SCoPE 2035) recently celebrated Santa Clara County’s decision to pass the Affordable Housing Ordinance, which requires the University to pay higher fees on affordable housing and construct more low-income homes as part of Stanford’s plans to develop 2.3 million square feet of new campus facilities by 2035. The University opposed this decision, claiming that the new policy fails to address the Bay Area’s housing crisis.

Despite these challenges, Zacharias said she remains optimistic about the Task Force and what it may achieve.

“It’s exciting to see the commitment of the task force members and their eagerness to engage with their respective stakeholders to gather and study ideas,” she said.

 

Contact Berber Jin at fjin16 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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