Professors and Students as Roommates?

It's not a concept for a sitcom -- UC Santa Cruz is so strapped for space it is asking faculty and staff to open their homes for students to rent.

August 31, 2018
 

Facing an "urgent" area housing shortage, officials at the University of California, Santa Cruz, have issued a plea to professors and staffers: please rent out rooms to students.

Dave Keller, executive director of housing services, emailed employees this week informing them that several hundred students remain on a waiting list for university housing for the upcoming fall quarter, which begins Sept. 22. He asked faculty and staff to open their homes to these in-limbo students.

“The need is real and it is urgent, so I am reaching out to the faculty and staff community for help,” Keller wrote. “Offering a room in your home to a student who has not been able to find housing for the school year would be a tremendous support to their success at UCSC.”

The university guarantees housing for first- and second-year students and for one year for transfer students -- about 9,300 spaces, university spokesman Scott Hernandez-Jason said in an interview. It already houses a higher percentage of its student body than any other California public institution except for California State University Maritime Academy, Hernandez-Jason said.

Asked if the institution was concerned about blurring boundaries when students live with their professors, Hernandez-Jason said officials welcome students reporting any concerns. The campus offers trainings for students, faculty and staff around “inappropriate conduct."

“On campus we’ve done a lot of outreach about having a healthy climate,” he said.

The university does not appear to have a policy explicitly barring relationships between students and professors. But the faculty’s code of conduct, as approved by the Academic Senate, says that romantic or sexual encounters between the two are inappropriate, even if they are consensual -- at least for faculty who have responsibility for or reasonably expect to have care over a student in the future.

Increasingly, the Santa Cruz area has been plagued with a housing crisis, Hernandez-Jason said.

Indeed, since the financial crisis in 2008, the economy has been sluggish to recover and new building has slowed -- at the same time, rents have skyrocketed, The Santa Cruz Sentinel reported last year.

As Silicon Valley residents have been priced out of the market there, they have also turned to Santa Cruz, Hernandez-Jason said.

A November ballot measure for the city of Santa Cruz would enact rent-control laws, but for the interim, students have struggled to find affordable housing, Hernandez-Jason said.

UC Santa Cruz tried this strategy once before, in 2014, putting out a call to faculty and staff when the institution was strapped for space. That effort was successful, Hernandez-Jason said.

The university also sponsors a “community rentals” page, similar to Craigslist or other websites for rental listings -- this week's email is meant to encourage employees to post their housing vacancies there, Hernandez-Jason said. Institution officials do not vet postings on the portal, he said. "Students need to do their own due diligence."

The university is trying to build new housing, which would add about 3,000 new beds but displace spaces in other buildings, resulting in about 2,100 new spaces, Hernandez-Jason said. But that project doesn’t have a timeline.

The institution offered admission to 35,000 students for the coming academic year, but expects to enroll 5,600 brand-new undergraduates and more than 7,000 transfer students, according to The Mercury News.

Reaction to the entreaty has been met with some criticism. A student whose tweet about the university’s email went viral, whom BuzzFeed identified as Dana Padilla, 21, wrote that the plan was “fuckin’ ridiculous.”

“All of our study spaces were converted into rooms as well!! It [sic] almost like … they wanna accept students over capacity and then be surprised when so many drop out or don’t do well,” Padilla tweeted.

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