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The success, stability, and morale of an academic department largely depend on its faculty.” This is according to Thomas Weidner, chairperson of the School of Physical Education, Sport, and Exercise Science, and Samuel Cotton, chairperson of the Department of Technology, both at Ball State University. At the 32nd Annual Academic Chairpersons Conference, they shared some of their best practices for conducting a faculty search that will result in a new hire who fits well with the department and will make a lasting contribution to its success.
Legal and compliance issues
“Folks were more unaware than we realized about compliance and legal issues,” Weidner tells AL. A substantial part of the discussion surrounded legal issues in the search process.
For example, there are several pieces of data that interviewers cannot ask about, including age, birthplace or national origin, race or color, sex or gender, religion or creed, disability, and arrest record; interviewers also cannot ask certain personal questions.
Other questions can be asked, but they are subject to certain restrictions. For example, an interviewer may ask about previous names to verify identity, but the interviewer cannot ask about maiden or previous names not required for identity verification. Interviewers may ask about citizenship to ascertain lawful and unexpired authorization to be hired but may not ask about citizenship or country of origin or duration of visa. Interviewers may ask about branch of military service and rank but may not ask about type of discharge. Additionally, candidates may be asked about willingness to work the required schedule but cannot be asked about willingness to work religious holidays or about how they will secure child care during work hours. Other types of questions also have restrictions, so it is important to learn the legalities before interviewing.
In fact, visa status is one of the most complicated legal and compliance issues in the hiring process. Applicants cannot be asked about their visa status until they accept an offer of employment, but human resources must process the I-9 form verifying employability before work can begin. For that, they will need documentation that establishes both identity and employability. While a U.S. passport will establish both, some documents (such as a driver’s license, a government-issued ID card, or a school ID card with a photo) are sufficient to establish identity, while other documents (like a Social Security card or a birth certificate) will establish employment authorization.
Universities may encounter H1-B visas, which enable foreign workers to stay in the U.S. for up to six years. During this period, the worker could file for permanent status. However, there are several requirements for the employer to follow, including regulations about wages, impact on other employees of hiring the person with the H1-B visa, and public access and notification regulations. Additionally, if the employer is “H1-B dependent,” a measure of number of employees compared to number of H1-B workers, there will be additional requirements to fulfill.
Finally, as an employer, the university needs to have several statements ready as part of its hiring processes. These should state the university’s equal opportunity policy and affirmative action policy.
“Normally, an institution will also provide a contact for additional information or assistance regarding these matters or concerns. Also, each institution should provide information regarding procedures and timelines for challenging actions or decisions which may be viewed as being in conflict with policy statements,” Weidner and Cotton said in their presentation.
Quality control and organization
Conducting a faculty search requires thoroughness and consistently, the pair note in their presentation. Because the search committee will be amassing a substantial amount of materials and communications during the search, it is important to collect these in an organized manner.
One of the areas most in need of consistency is the solicitation of references. “[Attendees expressed] disagreement and confusion about what’s appropriate,” Weidner says of the conference presentation. He explains that many people have the impression that they can call only the references a candidate lists on his or her application or CV. Instead, “it’s good practice to call people not on the list” as long as the committee lets the candidate know ahead of time. “As we have faculty move [on], I’m surprised when I don’t get a call from the search committee,” Weidner says.
Another issue that arises is the use of social media in candidate searches. Weidner explains that there is precedent for this within the state of Indiana, as Indiana Public Schools has a full-time social media expert whose job includes investigating the information available on candidates for positions. However, Cotton cautions that search committees cannot ask candidates to share their social media passwords, and that searches on social media for information must be restricted to publicly available information.
The interviews will be a critically important part of the search process. The pair recommend constructing interview guides that the interviewers can follow to be sure that the same questions are asked of each applicant. They use one interview guide for the initial Skype or telephone interview, and another for the on-campus interviews.
Interviewers should be prepared for their role with adequate materials and information. For example, the interviewers should be equipped with the position description and the CVs of the applicants prior to the interviews. Candidate teaching and research presentations should be posted online, where the search committee can view them as needed, although it is not necessary to make these available to the campus community as a whole. Interviewers should also be given a standardized list of questions that might come from a candidate so that they are able to prepare.
Final evaluation and selection
Weidner and Cotton recommend making use of a standardized candidate interview evaluation form at the time of selection for the position. This form should include selection variables that might help compare and contrast the candidates. The selection process might also include student reviews if a student committee was included in the process.
At the time of selection, Weidner and Cotton recommend listing all the candidates on a whiteboard and giving them a numerical ranking (1 for first place, 2 for second, etc.) on several different dimensions. These might include:
One of the most interesting criteria from the list above is collegiality. How a new faculty member fits in and gets along with the others in the department can make a substantial contribution to the department’s success. Ball State uses a number of prepared questions to determine how collegial a potential new faculty member is. These questions ask, among other things, how the candidate promotes rapport in the department, how the candidate deals with the quirks of colleagues, and how he or she handles conflicts.
After a selection is made and a candidate has accepted the position, there are some wrap-up activities that ensure the process is concluded smoothly. The committee should compile all the committee notes, reference checks, forms, agendas, and minutes and archive them for two years.
Then, the committee should make courtesy phone calls to on-campus interviewees who were not offered the position and should send professional regret letters to other applicants. Finally, the committee should send thank-you notes to those who helped conduct the on-campus interviews.
Selecting a new faculty member can change a department for good or ill. By following some consistent procedures, it’s possible to select someone who will make a positive contribution for years to come.
Jennifer Patterson Lorenzetti is managing editor of Academic Leader.