PUC Board Tackles Employee Housing Issue

By D. Malcolm Maxwell on December 18, 2007

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The mission of Pacific Union College has always been to offer a quality, Christ centered education. The mission statement is to the point: "Our mission is to offer an excellent and distinctive Christian education designed to prepare our students for productive lives of useful service and uncompromising integrity." In short, PUC's goal is to graduate students who are like Christ. Of course, such a goal is idealistic. Still, it reflects the faith of our college's founders and the dream we share for all of our schools.

A brief stroll on PUC's campus--stopping to chat with various students--makes it clear that the mission is alive and well today. When the board of trustees met on February 28, it was encouraged to see how the college's commitment to that mission remains central.

The board was also presented with some harsh realities. It is increasingly apparent that PUC lacks the financial strength to overcome an encroaching dilemma: the desperate need for entry-level housing for faculty and staff.

The Pacific Union certainly chose one of the most beautiful locations in the world when it purchased Edwin Angwin's health resort in 1909 for PUC's campus. Two days later, Ellen White surveyed the newly purchased property and approved, noting how its natural resources--trees, springs, and land--could help support the college financially. The church could not have anticipated that in 90 year's time the Napa Valley would become the fourth most expensive region in the nation in which to live.

Hence, the real quandary: It is very difficult for new and incoming teachers to afford housing in the Napa Valley. And if the college cannot attract and keep quality employees because of a lack of affordable housing, its mission is threatened.

So with the college's mission--and its challenges--in mind, the board prayerfully set out to find a long-term solution, rather than a quick fix. Without a dissenting vote, the board voted to consider all viable options to solve the employee housing issue, including the sale of up to 187 of PUC's 2,000 acres. Even with the pending sale, PUC would still own well over 1,800 acres, which is more than most universities and colleges in North America.

The board voted that the sale of land be for "fair market value," and that 90 percent of the proceeds be placed into an endowment. The earnings from that endowment would then go toward the development of affordable employee housing projects on college land.

Because of zoning requirements, the buyer of the land must use it for agriculture, which in Napa County is likely to mean grape growing. Access to the land will be about two miles from the campus entrance. Despite what many have heard, however, PUC is not selling land "for a winery." Furthermore, the college maintains a focus on healthful living principles, including an alcohol-free lifestyle.

As you might imagine, considerable and spirited discussion took place in that board meeting. The members of the board love the college dearly, and no one likes the notion of selling land. However, the reason the board strongly supported this measure is simply this: PUC's Christ-centered mission remains as imperative in the twenty-first century as it was in the nineteenth-century, when the college was founded. To achieve this ongoing mission, PUC must have quality faculty; therefore, the college must have additional faculty housing.

PUC has helped to shape our denomination for 119 years. Its alumni have held positions of leadership in our church, from the General Conference level to the local congregation, and we are grateful to its faculty for keeping the mission alive. The college's mission--and its ability to carry it out--is as strong as ever, thanks to this important decision.