TITLE: Academic Searches
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: January 30, 2007 2:06 PM
has written a couple of articles on the process of
searching for new faculty,
including his recent
tips for applicants
to schools like his. I haven't been part of a CS faculty
search in a couple of years, after what seemed an interminable
decade of trying and failing to feel an open slot or two. Our
last two searches resulted in three hires, and we couldn't be
much happier with the results. Our department is much better
now than it was before.
I attribute our success as much to good fortune as to any
particular actions we took. When I first became involved in
job searches, I thought that a good search committee could
reliably produce a good result. Write the correct job
description, do the right sort of applicant screening and
reference checking, and interview the finalists in the correct
way, and out would pop the Ideal Candidate. After years of
trying to do the job better, I came to understand how naive I
had been. The process of searching for and hiring a member of
the faculty is inherently risky, and the best one can do is
hope to hire a good person while avoiding any major disasters.
It's much easier to watch for the red flags that indicate a
higher-than-usual level of risk than it is to recognize the
signals that ensure a winner, but even on that side of the
equation the committee must have the the patience it needs not
to rush ahead in the presence of red flags.
Faculty searches are tougher than most, because the outcomes
on which success will be measured are forecasts based on a
small set of data points from a world that is not all that
representative of the world in which new faculty will operate.
We do our best and then act on faith in a person. Sometimes
we just guess wrong. When things don't turn out right, both
the new faculty member and the hiring department have suffered
a loss. The split may be amicable, but neither party is better
as a result.
For some staff positions, I think a good search committee can
deliver a good result with a much higher probability, if only
because the parameters of the position are easier to delineate
and evaluate. Besides, there usually isn't the messy specter
of a tenure decision complicating most such hires. But there's
still an element of risk involved.
As a department head, I've come to appreciate that another
challenging kind of search is for administrators and staff
who affect the longer-term strategies of the department.
I'll write a bit about this kind of search next time.