(Bloomberg) -- Rice University is losing out on potential faculty recruits who say they don’t want to relocate to Texas because of factors including the conservative political environment.
University President Reginald DesRoches said some professors from the East or West Coasts are reluctant to consider Houston as the school pushes to hire 200 new faculty members. The private school is expanding its undergraduate enrollment to 4,800 students by fall 2024, a 20% increase from several years ago.
“There are cases where sometimes people don’t come to Rice because of the perception of Texas,” DesRoches, who is the university’s first Black president, said in an interview Monday at Bloomberg’s New York headquarters.
He added that those who he can persuade to pay a visit are often impressed by Houston’s diversity and cultural offerings, and that he’s still been able to hire well qualified professors.
“If we can get people to Texas, we can get people to Houston and they can see how cosmopolitan it is, how diverse it is, the rich culture, the museum culture, and the music culture, that we do well in recruiting people,” he said in a later interview on Bloomberg Radio. “We’ve been able to so far recruit an exceptionally talented group of faculty to Rice. We’re really pleased with that, and we will continue to work hard.”
The school gets more than 31,000 applications a year from perspective students, far more than it can admit, he said.
The comments about recruiting new hires come after a survey last month of more than 1,900 college faculty in Texas, which found that about two-thirds wouldn’t recommend the state to a colleague from elsewhere. More than a quarter said they planned to interview for positions outside of Texas. University professors tend to lean liberal, and the top issue for those expressing a desire to leave was the state’s political climate.
Texas Republicans in recent years pushed through bans on diversity, equity and inclusion programs at public universities, as well as some of the nation’s strictest bans on abortion and on gender affirming care for children. The GOP controls all statewide offices and has a majority in the state Senate and House.
DesRoches said having a diverse faculty was particularly meaningful for students from underrepresented backgrounds.
“People underestimate how important it is that students see people that look like them in the classroom,” DesRoches said. He says the university has doubled the percentage of Black faculty over the past five years to 4%.
Rice is the richest private university in Texas with an endowment of about $7.8 billion. Its aggressive expansion plans underscore a sharp dichotomy in higher education, in which some schools are growing quickly while smaller colleges are losing students and closing.
(Updates with comment on Bloomberg Radio in the fifth paragraph.)
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