Wednesday, August 4, 2010

a wide or narrow net?

Fulltime faculty searches in my university are governed by a very specific set of procedures designed to protect both the university and the candidates (eh—mostly the university—from lawsuits and grievances that might be brought by candidates). This doesn’t mean that hiring protocols are always interpreted in precisely the same way—or that the rules governing full-time faculty recruitment are inflexible. Waivers and variances can sometimes be sought when extenuating circumstances are deemed sufficient. Part of the job of a department chair, dean, etc., is to make a convincing argument (one that our human resources division finds defensible) that such a variance is necessary, legitimate, etc. From the perspective of the faculty engaged in recruiting a new colleague, this is one of the very best reasons to make sure one has properly followed the hiring protocols from the get-go; and that begins at the moment a line is approved and it is time to constitute and begin the work of the search and/or hiring committees. These two committees/terms cannot always be conflated. For instance, in my department, a search committee (comprised of at least one rep from each of the standard sub-specializations in the discipline—and probably 2 or more from the area being recruited) does all the work from start to finish. In TH’s department, a search committee presents the department with the short-list, and from that point on a hiring committee (“of-the-whole”) kicks in to finish out the job. What that means is that all fulltime tenure/tenure-track (including the search committee) members may vote—provided that they have attended each of the candidates’ interviews and job talks. The same holds true for search committee members in my department; committee members (except the dept. chair, who is non-voting ex-officio) cannot miss any of the deliberations, interviews, or talks—start to finish. This is why it is best to get those many events/committee meetings scheduled and on every member’s calendar well before the week or even month in which the meeting will be necessary.

In both the search/hiring and search (only) variations, it is the search committee members who are responsible for developing the documents that will guide the specific hire. These are then submitted to the dean (each college within the university has its own variations on the university hiring document) and to human resources for final approval. These are scrutinized for a variety of issues, but mostly to make certain that they meet the requirements and limitations defined in university, college, and department hiring policy documents. Does that make sense? There are broad policy guidelines at the university level, these are then interpreted at the college/division-level, and customized yet again at the department-level. Needless to say, hiring procedures at the department level must meet restrictions mandated at the college level, and college-level documents must fit within the proscriptions of the university-wide documents.

Now back to the search-specific documents that must be produced for each recruitment opportunity. I’m sure these vary widely from campus to campus and university to university, but ours include things like: the vacancy announcement, job ads (for specific journals, websites, listservs, etc.), recruitment strategies (which must demonstrate due diligence in terms of reaching a diverse/under-represented pool of potential applicants), timelines for every stage of the search, interview questions (candidates and referees), ranking criteria and related procedures for reaching the long-list, short-list, and so forth.

Much of the language in ads is not just good, descriptive prose. It is legal-speak. Such words as “required,” “must, ” and “prefer/preferred” carry more meaning than one might imagine. For instance, when our vacancy announcement (to which job ads will link and refer interested parties, and with which ads must align) states that a “PhD in X” is required, that means you will not—indeed, CANNOT, be considered if your degree is in something else—no matter how closely your training approximates the training in discipline X or is an interdisciplinary rendition/expansion of discipline X in the context of ABZ. It doesn’t matter if you’ve published in flagship journal of discipline X or taught in a Department of X, or even earned tenure in one. Why? Because the vacancy announcement (guiding legal document) states that a Ph.D. in X is required. Applicants who do not meet that criterion aren’t therefore included in the pool of applications considered; most of the committee members will never even see/read your file. How can that be? Well, among the many dates outlined in the hiring procedure for every position is a series of dates by which applicant files are submitted to the dean so that she can approve/legitimate the progress of the search from one stage to the next. At my university, deans literally inspect the files from which a committee intends to develop its preliminary list, certifying that there is an adequate pool (we’ve all heard of those instances in which there were only 3 applicants because the department had already chosen an inside or other candidate and didn’t advertise nationally or even regionally—but rather in the local newspaper for one day—say, Christmas—when no one was reading the want-ads). Before these files are presented to the dean, three members of the committee (dept. chair, search chair, and a committee member trained in the nuances of affirmative action/equal opportunity) do a preliminary cull of the files, removing all those applications that don’t meet the minimum requirements of the position (mind you, these have already been defined and approved all the way up the line—in fact, HR often comes back to search committees with approvals contingent upon the addition of a criterion clearly laid out as required in the vacancy announcement, but not operationalized in the committee’s procedural paperwork). This cull is most quickly done by examining the CV (and perhaps a quick check of the letter of interest, if the CV, for some inexplicable reason, is ambiguous as to the Ph.D. degree program). Thus, if you are applying for a position that reads: “Ph.D. in X required at time of application” and you do not have 1.) the Ph.D. in hand and/or 2.) a Ph.D in X, then your file is removed from the pool of applications sent forward for approval/certification by the dean.¹ This is not bureaucratic bullshit—it is the critical means by which those candidates who DO meet minimum requirements are privileged. Otherwise, the university and department can be sued for discrimination or unfair hiring practices. The federal and institutionally-imposed bureaucracy of hiring with which we must all contend emerged precisely because of such law suits.

Of course, many ads read “or related field” (as ours could, if we so desired and could make a good case to our larger faculty and dean for their approval; this is not always smart, though, since interdepartmental collaboration—especially within a college is already encouraged, AND turf wars over curriculum typically specific to one discipline that gets introduced to another discipline [vs. a ‘studies’ program/department] always raises some political-economic flags.) Disciplinary boundaries are porous in scholarly terms, but rarely in practical, economic terms. It is very tough to make a case that one needs a new line in order to teach another discipline’s method and theory. If you cannot grab that expertise out of a doctoral program in one’s own discipline, then an arugment can easily be made that you do not need the new line. Many programs and departments do recruit outside their immediate field. TH’s department, for instance, will sometimes build language into the announcement that allows them to consider candidates trained in classics or Am. Studies, or some other degree (but this doesn’t happen often). And certainly, there are instances where international doctoral degree programs do not precisely correlate with degree programs in the US (and we have means by which to “correct” for this). But it makes sense to read ads with extra attention to language that casts a wide or more limited net, that confines or expands (per my earlier examples: "Ph.D. in Z or related discipline"  and Ph.D. "in hand at time of appointment"). Because many of us—on the hiring side—are obliged to. And it is always sad to see how many files don’t make even the most cursory cut. On the other hand, when one must read and rank 100+ qualifying files, having those non-qualifying applications pulled out (before one has wasted one’s time reading the files of un-rankable applicants) can be a many splendored thing.

¹At this stage, preferred criteria are not scrutinized (the degree to which you can meet those will matter only if you make it into the pool of files to be read by the larger search committee for the purposes of creating a long-list).


rented life said...

I find it really interesting that committee members MUST be at all stages of interviews etc. I interviewed with a CC in Neighbor City that recorded both my phone interview AND my face-to-face interview because "a committee member couldn't make it." I found that very strange. Then again, I spoke with a friend just last night and he interviewed there as well a few years ago and said the whole school was pretty strange. My problem with it was how could someone possibly vote and make a fair assessment without being there, even with a recording? (In my field it's commonly accepted that a great deal can be lost in a recorded message.)

On the PhD in X: I have often been encouraged to get a PhD in education instead of in my field. In fact the local Uni that rejected me (even though I got my MA there) said I should apply for a PhD in education because I wanted to teach not work at an R1. However, I have not once seen a job posting that allowed a degree in anything other than my field. Every posting I saw this year, every posting I applied to in teaching, said a PhD (or MA) in my field--nothing else was allowed. I felt frustrated that so many people would encourage me to get a PhD in a different field without believing me that I wouldn't be able to teach in my original field.

auto ethnographer said...

It is possible at my place to have the business of a taped call/video-taped presentation kick in to play (if circumstances are deemed to be truly extenuating and if other committee members are okay with it). It has so far never been done in my department. (I do know one dept. that regularly videotapes its candidates' presentations--but they get permission from them and this is a department that sort of specializes in the business of communicating--I think they are all destroyed the close of the hire.) IF one had an already minimal number of people on a committee, and someone had a death in the family and had to go to the funeral or something like that--it would almost be better for that committee member to evaluate all the candidates on the same basis (tapes vs. live presentations & interviews for every one, vs. just the one they will have to miss). We tend--in my department--to constitute healthy sized committees--and twice in my experience a candidate has had to drop off for lack of ability to make all necessary meetings.

RE: your comments on being encouraged to get the doctorate in education versus your field. If I'm reading the 2nd sentence of your second paragraph correctly, you are saying that you applied to a PhD program (vs. applying to teach) at the local univ[?], and were rejected for admission, but encouraged (since you were not aiming to teach at an R1, to apply to doctoral programs in education). That would be a pretty standard response. First, most universities don't admit "their own," and seond, if you want to pursue a Ph.D., you have to demonstrate in your letter of application that you are committed to research/scholarship. If you gave them the least bit of reason to think that you weren't aiming to land a position at an R1, they wouldn't likely invest in you. But clearly, you are paying attention to what it takes to teach in your field, and it isn't a doctorate in education, apparently. So if you apply again to doctoral programs, foreground your research questions/passions, etc. If you don't need the Ph.D. (which it sounds like you don't), then you'll likely find the tenure track job you are looking for at a CC. Perserverance is remarkably important. Since you have the other job now so that you can actually LIVE and pay your bills while you look for teaching positions, just remember to stay active in your field. Being mobile is also important(I know there are places you won't go--but that still leaves a huge swath of the Country), right?

auto ethnographer said...

Correcting my earlier comment.
The videotapes are (I believe) destroyed at the end of the hire, not the candidates or search committee members--as my comment seems to imply (altho, often, that happens, too!)

And second, "twice in my experience, a" committee member--not candidate has had to drop out. I clearly need another cup of coffee.