At Their Service

Berkeley offers an unusual perk for new faculty: a concierge who can advise them on anything from real estate to pet care.

September 10, 2012

Lisa Bagnatori used to be a social worker in California’s Bay Area, helping Holocaust survivors remain in their homes as they aged and their independence declined.

But about four years ago she made a career change, moving to a newly created job as a concierge for new faculty members at the University of California at Berkeley (she is called the CALcierge). For a university setting, Bagnatori’s job is more than a little unusual. A day’s work could involve helping suggest the right day care for a faculty member’s child or recommending a pet care facility.

The concierge job is Berkeley’s way of offering a seamless service for new faculty hires, something that was previously taken care of by various departments as they went about recruiting faculty. Bagnatori, who reports to the university’s office of faculty equity and welfare, is now the one-stop shop for new faculty members, and usually their requests have little to do with academic life.

Angelica Stacy, associate vice provost for faculty at Berkeley, said the concierge position was created to ensure a good transition for new faculty members. “Our goal was to have a place to talk confidentially, be it a renting situation, elder care or what schools your children should go to,” Stacy said.  “We make an investment when we hire new faculty; we want them to stay long-term.”

Stacy added that people tend to remember how they were welcomed and the kind of help they were provided when they began a new job. New hires "will be more successful if everything else is working well,” she said.

The Bay Area is one of the country’s most expensive places to live, and can be intimidating to newcomers. It is Bagnatori’s job to ease that transition. “A lot of the skills that I learned in my previous job were easily transferable to this job,” she said. Bagnatori, who graduated from Berkeley with a degree in social welfare and Italian before getting a master’s degree in nonprofit administration from the University of San Francisco, said that her job is “demanding but gratifying.”

Prospective faculty members can ask her questions during the search process that they might not ask anyone else on campus. “They can go ahead and tell me stuff and I will keep it a secret,” Bagnatori said. Some prospective faculty members share concerns about how a move to Berkeley might affect the career of their spouse or partner, and wonder how the university might be able to help, Bagnatori said.

Between November and July this year, Bagnatori assisted about 100 prospective faculty members, while also helping out spouses and partners. A typical day could involve meeting with as many as four faculty members and their spouses, helping out spouses with resumes or connecting them with people who could offer advice on which neighborhoods to consider.

All this means that Bagnatori has to stay on top of local business and  career trends. She reads the San Francisco Business Times to understand the kinds of new jobs that might be emerging. She also collects information from various offices on campus, such as the Berkeley International Office and a campus child-care program, besides the academic departments that are actually hiring new faculty members.

An international faculty hire can present another level of complexity, from visa restrictions to understanding tax rules. Bagnatori recently helped find a volunteer English teacher for an international faculty spouse who wanted to prepare for interviews. 

“[Bagnatori] continues to collect contacts [and] grow the repository of information she has,” said Stacy, the associate vice provost. “She saves people time.”

Elizabeth Ancarana, assistant dean for faculty development at Harvard University, said that the Berkeley model is “all encompassing” when it comes to transitional matters. At Harvard, Ancarana’s office helps in the actual recruitment of faculty and also assists faculty members and their families in their transition to the Boston area.

 “The two programs are different in that way, but each provide in-depth service for the transition and acclimation of faculty and their families to their respective institutions and local areas,” she said in an e-mail.


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