My student, my landlord

Michelle Renee Matisons is an assistant professor in the CSUS Women’s Studies Program

People like to complain about their salaries—after all, is anyone paid enough? But having a student as a landlord is a bit much. Most California State University, Sacramento, junior faculty members complain about their paychecks, because of Sacramento’s high housing prices and cost of living. The average CSUS junior faculty salary was around $48,000 in 2003. Recently, I encountered an especially striking example of this problem. I have a student who almost became my landlord!

Last week, a 23-year-old student stopped by my office to tell me she’s renting out a home she just purchased. She makes $62,000 per year without a college degree. It’s just blocks away from my current residence. I became excited! The rent was good, the location was right, it was cute; where do I sign?

But then I caught myself. Do I really want my student to be my landlord? After all, she still has a degree to complete with me as her adviser.

I envisioned situations such as calling her and refusing to pay rent until she gets me that term paper. Or she offers to knock $100 off my rent for a deadline extension. When my toilet breaks, and she fails to return my call, do I downgrade that term paper? Can’t she retaliate by not taking care of the yard?

The number of scenarios multiplied in my head before I decided to never rent a place from a student of mine in principle—no matter how desperate I get for a cute, affordable place in Sacramento. CSUS faculty members renting from their students? It’s just not right.

In the next few years, CSUS President Alexander Gonzalez plans to build affordable faculty housing near campus. Am I alone in thinking that this sounds like subsidized dorms for professors? Furthermore, this faculty ghetto will not meet the needs of all junior faculty; there are too many of us. And I, for one, want to decide where to live using an enhanced salary structure that recognizes Sacramento’s inflated housing market and cost of living.

CSUS’s junior faculty members bear the brunt of these fundamental pay inequities. Until the university recognizes this and increases salaries to above the median in the CSU system, faculty will continue to face the prospect of slumlord students.