Thursday, February 21, 2013

 

Participation or Efficiency?


Oscar Wilde supposedly once claimed that he would have been a socialist, but he liked to keep his evenings free.  All that civic participation would have crimped his style.

I was reminded of that this week in discussion with some faculty who were balking at the time commitment involved in serving on search committees.  They all believe in heavy faculty involvement in searches, but all that participation really adds up.

They’re certainly right that search committees are major time commitments.  We have some pretty sophisticated protocols for staffing them, trying to balance veterans and newbies, faculty and staff, men and women, subject matter experts and fresh eyes.  Unlike many private sector companies, we don’t let HR do the first round of screening; the search committee culls through the entire set of applications before deciding on who it would like to invite for first-round interviews.  Depending on the position, the applications can run well into three digits.

Just scheduling committee meetings is a major endeavor.  Faculty have different teaching schedules from each other, and staff members’ calendars are different still.  Each committee has to be “charged,” to get its affirmative action training, and to have its “what are we looking for?” conversations.  Then it decides who to invite for first round interviews and has to arrange the internal logistics for 8-10 of those.  Finally, it has to decide on 3-4 finalists to send forward.  

It’s a lot of work.  We have a rule that anyone on a search committee is excused from all other college service for that semester, in recognition of the time it takes.  (College service refers to other sorts of committees, but not to teaching.)  Even with that, some people find the task too onerous.

But there’s no appetite for streamlining, either.  

It wouldn’t be all that hard to streamline.  Let HR decide who to invite for first-round interviews, and bring the committee into play for the first time at that point.  Done and done.

Culturally, though, that’s just not an option.  The committees don’t want to give up control, and control requires work.  The process can be participatory, or it can be low-impact, but it can’t be both.  Participation takes time.

In a context in which most people are teaching four or five classes per semester, that’s not just carping.  Time is at a premium.  That’s even more true as the semester progresses, and just fitting in all the interviews before the deadline becomes a challenge.  And course releases for search committee members are neither economically sustainable -- you’d be surprised how quickly the cost adds up -- nor practical, given that hires tend to come in areas where we’re short-staffed already.  When a department is already running thin, adding several course releases makes it even thinner.

Wise and worldly readers, has your college or company found a relatively practical and sustainable way to balance participation and efficiency in hiring?

(Program Note: Due to some life events, the blog will be quiet next week.  I’ll return on Monday, March 4.)

Comments:
It’s a lot of work. We have a rule that anyone on a search committee is excused from all other college service for that semester, in recognition of the time it takes.

HAHAHAHAHA. If only XU had such a policy. I was chair of a search committee AND director of graduate studies at the same time this year. BTW, the DGS ALSO does graduate admissions, so there was that too.

Thanks for reminding me why I need to tell my chair to go piss off when he asks me to take on a different service position next year (though my reign is over, and I'm not expected to move on to something else immediately.)
 
We let HR do a pre-screen to rule out people who don't meet the minimum requirements. Then the committee goes through the apps to decide who to invite for initial interviews. For faculty positions, the pre-screen may not save you much time. For staff positions, we have a lot of people apply who don't meet the minimum degree/experience requirements and HR pulls those.

That said, I'd rather put in the extra time and not let HR do a pre-screen. They interpret the requirements very strictly and it can lead to ridiculous results, particularly when a posting asks for a specific degree major without "or a related field". For instance, if a posting asks for a degree in Management Information Systems, they will trash anyone with a major in Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, Information Technology or Computer Information Systems. In most cases, the search committee would want to see all of those.
 
It’s a lot of work. We have a rule that anyone on a search committee is excused from all other college service for that semester, in recognition of the time it takes.

I'm also saying HMMMMM on this, considering I work within the same community college system as Dean Dad. My CC does not have this rule.
 
They’re certainly right that search committees are major time commitments.

I have a different question: Is there any evidence that all this participation actually leads to an improved outcome over, say, one person, or two people, making the decision on their own?

If I were in a position to be on a search committee, I would probably try to avoid it, because the work itself looks unimportant.
 
We belong to a church that is democratically run, and all staff and pastoral positions are selected by committee. The committees can get big because different types of people need to be involved. The way we have cut down on lag and administrative overload is to designate a committee chair and a couple (2, or max 3) core committee members. The core has to be at all the meetings - others do not, but if they don't come, they don't get to complain about the results. It seems to work pretty well, and gives each individual the ability to make their own tradeoff between control and time/work. The core members are chosen for very specific reasons and also given ample - and real - opportunity to decline. We also time-box some of the steps, so, for example, no more than X hours spent reviewing first round of resumes, stop after the first 10 qualified candidates, etc. Since 100% optimization is never possible, we give ourselves permission to optimize even less. It hasn't failed us yet - we have always gotten wonderful people in the end.
 
I can't think of any work that would be more valuable to supporting my long-term vision of what kind of college I'd like to work within than helping to select my coworkers and eventual occasional bosses.

In any org, there are only two really powerful positions: paycheck-signer and interviewer. Everyone else is pretty much doing what they're planning.

 
We don't get excused from any service when we're on search committees. I'm also looking at weeks of late nights on campus with a bandaid solution for Autistic Youngest because this was added on after I juggled the family's schedules for all the other duties in the term. . . .

Regarding pre-screening: HR doesn't do that here. That's led to some brow-raising over applicants with only a B.A. in [INSERT OTHER DISCIPLINE HERE] having to be "duly considered".

Still, it's a privilege to be in the position to hire new colleagues and we all are working hard to make the best decisions possible!
 
Regarding pre-screening: HR doesn't do that here. That's led to some brow-raising over applicants with only a B.A. in [INSERT OTHER DISCIPLINE HERE] having to be "duly considered".

Was this "due consideration" of such candidates motivated by, shall we say, a legal consideration? Or is HR just incompetent?
 
My Dean adjusts service loads for those on search committees if it wasn't already known before service assignments were made that there would be a search.

Alex, since HR does not screen applicants in any way at the place where Janice@4:25PM is serving on a faculty search committee, their competence is irrelevant. It is the applicant who is incompetent.

My college also does not have any screening done by HR, and we also get applicants who lack the required degree, or even any degree at all in the subject they would be required to teach. Fortunately, the "due consideration" of such candidates ends with a "no" in the first box on the review form but those are still a few minutes of our lives that are gone forever.
 
Ah, I misinterpreted. For some reason I read her comment as saying that HR had previously passed along some candidates with irrelevant degrees, forcing the department to give "due consideration."
 
You're missing 3 things.
1. People like to complain.
2. No matter how cool the job it's still not something you'd do for free.
3. The fact that there isn't a better option doesn't mean I have to like the least bad one.

Combine those together and you can probably file this under "meh" and move on.
 
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Weird, at my college search committees are a complete farce. I mean, we have them, we interview, we make recommendations...and then admin completely overrules us and hires whoever the heck they want. I've been on at least half a dozen, and never has the committee's recommendation been taken. We're told that "the others turned down the position", but then I get e-mails from the candidates asking if we ever filled it.

It was the same way at the previous university I taught at.

 
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