A search committee most often strikes a delicate balance. At best, It is a confederation of colleagues and staff across departments and disciplines with a singular purpose: to choose the very best individual to fill a vacant role. But that collection of people can sometimes ignite rancor within its ranks through differing and inflexible opinions, hidden agendas, and just plain ego.
Most hires at universities have had to endure the search committee process when they first found their permanent spot in academia. Most faculty and some staff will have to serve on search committees at some point. And of course, committee work can be pleasant, collaborative and satisfying.
In honoring its mission to represent a variety of people and disciplines with which a new hire will interact, differing opinions may provide welcome and necessary tension. But if a member is argumentative, difficult and clearly disruptive, measures must be taken to ensure the purity of the process. And, disruption of the smooth flow of committee work can make the commitment seem arduous, rather than a pleasant contribution to the proper operation of an institution of higher learning.
It's incumbent upon the chair to keep order. If one committee member arrives with an axe to grind or scores to settle, the time-honored process won’t produce the best result. So, if the chair does not act to quell the rancor immediately, a member or members must draw the chair aside and state the concerns in a dispassionate, yet clear, fashion. Anything greater than polite and even necessary debate within the committee structure will not serve the committee members, the candidates, or the university.
Make sure you do your part to keep the committee work businesslike while meeting together and with candidates, and discuss concerns in private with the person empowered to keep the work on track - the committee chair.
Kimberley Sirk is a North Carolina-based writer and editor with government, higher education and big-brand healthcare public relations and marketing experience.
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