Rice is missing opportunities to hire potential faculty members due to concerns surrounding Texas’s political climate, according to an interview with President Reggie DesRoches published in Bloomberg. DesRoches said Rice is seeking to hire 200 new faculty members, but many professors from the East or West coasts are reluctant to consider moving to Houston.
The American Association of University Professors and Texas Faculty Association found in a September report that around two-thirds of the 1,900 faculty members surveyed across Texas wouldn’t recommend seeking a faculty position in Texas to their peers. Additionally, a quarter of respondents stated they were planning to interview for positions outside of Texas within the next year.
Alessandro Piazza, a distinguished assistant professor at the Jones School of Business, said he believes those in academia are typically well-educated, progressive and socially conscious, so many laws Texas has passed, notably around reproductive healthcare, deter potential hires.
“I was at a conference in August where our organizational behavior group was recruiting, and I was talking to a fairly promising female candidate,” Piazza said. “She said, as a woman who has a daughter, she would never work in Texas.”
Provost Amy Dittmar said that despite the political climate of Texas, as a private school, Rice is not bound by some of the laws affecting tenure and diversity, equity and inclusion that affect public institutions. This has allowed Rice to provide extra faculty benefits and have strong recruiting and retention during the 2022-23 academic year, including hiring more tenure-track women than men, Dittmar said.
“Rice continuously strives to be a great place to work … whether through improvements to our family leave policy, hiring large groups of faculty with similar research interests, (in African and African American studies, for example) to work together within and across disciplines, and setting a minimum stipend so that all graduate students make at least a certain amount,” Dittmar wrote in an email to the Thresher.
Tesla Cariani, a postdoctoral fellow in the Center for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality who is non-binary and has two long-term partners, one of whom is transgender, said they can understand why it can be intimidating to consider living in Texas as a gender minority.
“It can be hard to imagine living in a place where everything you read about it signals that you don’t exist, [and] that it’s going to be hard to get basic healthcare,” Cariani said.
Jenny Liu, the co-director of Rice Women’s Resource Center, mentioned that the stigma surrounding Texas made her hesitant about coming to Rice.
“The political nature of this state tends to be a lot more conservative and a lot of policies are not great for women,” Liu, a junior from Sid Richardson College, said.
Liu said the fear surrounding Texas’s political climate was exacerbated by the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the trigger law banning abortion in Texas.
“[After] Roe v. Wade got overturned, we had a lot of students come in and ask what this meant for them, and how it would affect them day to day,” Liu said.
Cariani said that despite some legislation not passing, it sends the same message that Texas doesn’t value members of the LGBTQ community, which has taken a toll on students.
“I have seen [the legislation] take a mental, emotional and physical toll on colleagues, but especially on students who may be looking at some of these healthcare bills,” Cariani said. “One of the things that Texas was considering has been to raise bans [on gender-affirming care] from 18 years old to 26 years old, and that would absolutely affect college students if they’re taking hormones or looking into other trans-affirmative [care].”
Piazza and Cariani said that people forget that Houston is an urban area with a lot of diversity.
“I think the biggest divide [in the U.S. now] is not between red and blue states, but between urban and rural,” Piazza said. “Even though New York is traditionally considered a Democratic state, if you venture out of the city and go 50 miles north, you would actually find an environment that is not terribly different from certain suburban and rural areas of Texas.”
Cariani said the most challenging part of faculty recruitment is getting people to come visit Houston. Once they visit, they would realize it’s a great place to live, Cariani said.
“There is so much here,” Cariani said. “Part of it is countering narratives about Texas and the South, so we can fight for the things that really matter to us.”
According to Piazza, there are upsides to living in Houston, especially in terms of affordability and purchasing power.
“[Houston] is and can be a great place to live, and it would be an even better place to live if more great people would join us,” Piazza said.
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