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'Why is it shrinking?': Oxford community members notice decrease in professors living in town

<p>University administrators are still unsure when Miami professors will receive their COVID-19 vaccines. </p>

University administrators are still unsure when Miami professors will receive their COVID-19 vaccines.

Once, not too long ago, a walk uptown could mean running into a professor having coffee or sitting down next to a faculty member at Mac and Joe’s. But the appeal of city life and gainful employment for their spouses has pulled faculty away from living in the college town. 

As professors move away from Oxford, the community has shifted to a more student-focused economy and culture.

According to census data given to The Miami Student by Alan Kyger, retired Oxford economic director, populations for the past 30 years in the age ranges of 30 to 34, 35 to 44 and 45 to 54 have steadily decreased.

Kyger attributes this to professors and other Miami employees choosing to live in communities outside of Oxford, like West Chester or Mason. 

“The 30-50 year olds,” Kyger said, “they’re shrinking.”

The adults are not the only age group shrinking. The under 5, 5 to 9 and 10 to 14 ranges have also decreased. Kyger said with less adults in Oxford, the population of children is also going down. 

David Prytherch, a Miami University professor of geography and Oxford city councilor, settled in Oxford after discovering its small-town appeal. 

“Oxford is an incredibly vibrant town that had the ingredients to be a really good place to live,” Prytherch said. 

But he’s noticed the change in the make-up of Oxford residents. 

“Once upon a time, a majority of faculty members lived in Oxford,” Prytherch said, “and that was good for Oxford, and that was good for Miami. Over time, for various reasons, the proportion of people living in Oxford has declined.”

Howard Kleiman, professor emeritus of media and culture, is also an Oxford resident. He raised his family in Oxford but has steadily noticed the change in Oxford’s population. 

“It was much more common back 30 years ago for faculty to live in Oxford,” Kleiman said. “That has been an evolutionary thing over that time where more faculty don't live in Oxford.”

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Despite retiring from Miami, Kleiman and his wife still remain in Oxford. 

“One of the reasons that I got into higher education … [is] I like college towns,” Kleiman said. “I thought it'd be kind of weird to have a job in a college town and not take advantage of that town.”

Kleiman said professors choosing to live outside of Oxford has changed the culture between faculty and students. It’s less likely students will run into faculty outside of class and around town. 

“It was easier to interact with students,” Kleiman said. “[Professors] could contribute to the community beyond your teaching.”

With students making up almost two-thirds of Oxford's population, Kleiman said he’s noticed parts of the town disappearing, such as Oxford's independent newspaper and two radio stations. 

But the effect of faculty’s absence from Oxford isn’t just felt by students. It’s something that affects all of Oxford’s businesses. 

“It is a concern for Oxford because our student population has grown, but our non-student population has remained the same,” Prytherch said. “So, if we want to have a balanced town with a growing economy, we would love to have more [faculty and employees] choose to live in Oxford.”

Kleiman said businesses have started to reflect the change in Oxford’s population. 

“The businesses are much more for students, and sadly, there's less and less for the townies in terms of restaurants, shops and things,” Kleiman said. “And that's been a real disappointment to see.”

This is something Kyger noticed in his role as well. He said he had been asked by many residents why businesses seemingly cater to students rather than full-time residents.

“When 74% of your population is college age,” Kyger said, “and you're going to open a business, are you gonna ignore this? No.”

Kleiman said another reason faculty may choose to live elsewhere is that employees coming to live in Oxford are often bringing spouses, who also need jobs. 

“There's so little jobs available in Oxford except the university, and it's often very hard for a couple to find two jobs at the same time for each person,” Kleiman said. 

Kimberly Hamlin, an associate professor of history and global and intercultural studies, lives in Cincinnati with her family. 

She said during her transition to Miami in 2007, she expected there to be some kind of liaison or department to help her husband, a non-academic, find a job.

“Miami does not have such an office,” Hamlin said. “So … there was not much for my non-academic husband to do.”

Hamlin said she and her husband prefer city life, so moving to Oxford would have been difficult. However, she doesn’t believe living away from Oxford has affected her relationship with students. 

“I always would do movie nights and get pizza once a semester in my classroom,” Hamlin said. “I don't see them, like, at the grocery store or whatever. But I would always try to do things [such as] extra credit field trips, movie nights and things like that.”

Chris Martin, a former journalism professor, worked at Miami from 2005 to 2007. When he and his wife moved to Oxford, they had their sights set on living in the mile square, so they could be within walking distance of the university. 

“I think we were told, like, maybe 3 to 4% of the housing in the mile square is family housing, that it's actually owned by families,” Martin said. “Most of them tend to be rental houses.”

They ended up buying a house three miles south of Oxford.

Ron Becker, a professor of media and culture and strategic communication, moved to Cincinnati with his husband believing they would find a better community in the city than in a small town. 

“Living by myself as a gay guy in Oxford didn't seem appealing,” Becker said. “My husband … he was like, ‘Yeah, I don't want to live in that small town.’ The kind of gay community, gay friends that we could find [in Oxford] would be so much more limited.”

Prytherch said one of the main reasons he chose to live in Oxford was because of its walkability and the proximity of campus to where he lives. 

“To be honest, I'm not sure why people choose to live in places where they have to drive everywhere,” Prytherch said. “They have to drive 40 minutes a [day], and then drive everywhere where they live. So to me, I'd rather spend my time walking home and enjoying my house.”

Prytherch said he would encourage faculty to reconsider moving away from Oxford. 

“I would say that people sometimes don't give Oxford a chance because they think it's a small town, and they chase after the schools or a Target, or whatever,” Prytherch. “But … we have phenomenal schools. We have a vibrant business community. And we have a quality of life that's unparalleled, I think, in the region.”