Questions to Ask Your Search Committee

Just about every school uses some form of search committee to evaluate candidates for specific faculty positions. But is this the best way to fill higher education positions with qualified individuals?

Many will argue that the committee represents the department’s interest to provide quality individuals to fill open university positions. What can be the pitfalls of this thinking?

  • As in all organizations, committees are established to prevent one person from dictating who will be hired, hopefully avoiding all kinds of human resources issues. It is the committee who recommends that the school hires a specific person, but what motivates the committee to make their decision?
  • If “the committee” recommended this person and if this person does not work out no one person is to blame for the poor choice
  • If the committee members may choose an interviewing process that can hide committee member’s preferences or prejudices. After individual interviews, no committee member can say the candidate did not demonstrate their capabilities to meet the agreed upon standards of the committee, and who can argue with this person because no other committee member was part of that one-on-one interview. When a panel interview is conducted and the panel follows a pre-determined list of questions, detailed questions may not be asked because it involves a discussion with the candidate which the panel may have pre-decided to avoid for various reasons.
  • There is a power-broker in every organization, who influences the committee or will guide the committee to select the candidate they choose.  Which faculty member wants to tell their department chair that they disagree with the chairperson’s choice, understanding that the chairperson can possibly ruin a faculty member’s academic career?

When your department decides on a using a search committee, make sure the search process is transparent to all to observe and evaluate.

Rich Gerstin is the founder of The Asheforde Group and is the head of math department at Brown Mackie College, Atlanta.

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