Tuesday, October 29, 2013


You Make the Call!

Readers of a certain age who are also baseball fans will remember Mel Allen’s This Week in Baseball.  Back when we were lucky to get one game a week on television, TWIB was a highlight show that set the stage for, say, SportsCenter.  

My favorite recurring feature was “You Make the Call!,” in which they would show a complicated or rare play that occurred that week and ask the viewer how the umpire should have called it.  It gave me a new appreciation of how difficult umpiring actually is.

In that spirit, I’ll outline a hypothetical case, derived from a composite of things I’ve seen and/or heard about over the years.  This is not based completely on any one case.  I just want to get a sense of how wise and worldly people see this.  As context, let’s assume that this is taking place at a publicly funded community college.

The Basketweaving department has a few long-serving full-time faculty, and a host of adjuncts.  One of the adjuncts has been there longer than most, and has been conspicuous in going above and beyond to help the department.  Let’s call her SuperAdjunct.

The department has a retirement, and gets the opportunity to hire a full-time replacement.  It drafts a job description, assembles a search committee, and starts the process.  But the chair openly refers to the position as rightfully SuperAdjunct’s, and seems to resent even having to go through a process when it’s clear what the outcome should be.  Meanwhile, HR is pushing for the full, open process, on the grounds that anything less is discriminatory.

You make the call.  Is it absurd to bother running an open search when there’s somebody clearly deserving in-house, or is it unethical to assume a right answer before even running the search?  Is the chair or HR closer to right?

Been there longer.

Helps Department.

No mention of whether this person is a good teacher.

So, yes, an actual search is called for. In fact, this situation sounds EXACTLY why a search is called for, to prevent favoritism and insular hiring not based on actually doing the core of the job.
Under present conditions, HR may well be right.

However, given the number of well-qualified, long-serving adjuncts (and the incredible waste of resources by all involved occasioned by national searches that end up hiring internal candidates), perhaps there needs to be a formal promotion-review process that can be invoked in such situations? Then the discussion would take place on the level of which process was most appropriate to use given the situation (internal promotion process if familiarity with the institution and student population are major plusses, national search if new ideas/up-to-the-minute expertise are most needed).

A compromise position might be an internal search, which would give the other adjuncts a chance, and involve some degree of competition/picking the best person for the job out of a number of candidates, but/and would also recognize the value of someone with familiarity/a proven record with the institution, the student body, etc. Internal searches are not uncommon, at least at my institution, at the administrative level; why not use the same tactic when adding to the full-time faculty?
I remember "You make the call", and few of them were as easy as this one except maybe the obstruction call the other night.

Of course you do the search.

If Super Adjunct is that good, the odds of earning the job offer will not drop just because the search is fair and open. Further, Super Adjunct should be happy that ze doesn't owe anyone any allegiance for simply getting the job. However, if there is an even better Super Premium Adjunct at a neighboring college that you don't know about, the search will make your job pleasantly more difficult.
I should add that my remarks assumed said college was in a region like the northeast where there are many adjuncts at many different colleges that are all within commuting distance of the job being offered.

A regional search must go a long way in your area.
If there are multiple internal candidates who meet the minimum requirements, it seems to me that an internal search would be valid. Given the chair's attitude, even with a "national search" it appears the fix would be in, so the legal CYA benefits of the national search at HR don't really obtain - especially now that any candidate applying for a job at your institution who doesn't get it in favor of an internal candidate can now point to this blog post as Exhibit A in their employment discrimination lawsuit.
If Super-Adjunct compares favorably with the existing permanent instructors (including teaching-wise), and they presuamably were hired through some painstakingly official process, why trust the process to beat its own average? Demonstrated performance predicts future performance better than than most hiring tests do, I would think.

But I have no experience hiring, and absolutely no familiarity with the rules surrounding all this at colleges. Maybe the unwillingness in earlier comments to simply grant the adjunct's admin-assessed superiority as part of the hypothetical comes from exactly the experience I lack.
I think contingent Cassandra has it exactly right. There should be some way in which an experienced person who has a track record of excellent work can be promoted into a better position via an honest process that fairly evaluates accomplishment without putting other candidates through a wasteful farce.
HR is completely right. The idea of excluding outside candidates is just crazy from an institutional perspective (tenure-track positions are precious and you should try hard to get the best possible candidate), as well as profoundly unfair on a personal level. And what's the argument on the other side? That you owe adjuncts jobs even if they aren't the best candidates? That it would be really awkward and painful to hire a stranger instead of your friend and colleague? These are not compelling arguments.

The chair has probably been motivating adjuncts by suggesting that if they do well and pay their dues, then they'll be owed tenure-track jobs (subject to availability). If so, then the chair is already behaving unethically, quite aside from this search, because adjunct positions just aren't trial faculty positions. The chair might wish they were, but he/she is in no position to make such promises. Empty promises are just a form of manipulation.

So the real question, as I see it, is whether the department needs a new chair.
And what's the argument on the other side? That you owe adjuncts jobs even if they aren't the best candidates?

Sometimes people in other sectors get promotions even if there's the possibility that an outside candidate might be even better. It's recognized that you need to balance recruitment of the best with retention of the very good. Otherwise morale will suffer and turnover will create its own problems.

People with a long track record of strong performance should have a path to better opportunities.
It seems to me that the super adjunct is essentially on the tenure track in the eyes of the department head.

So why not put her on the tenure track and see how it works out.
A faux-open search where everyone inside already knows the outcome definitely strikes me as the worst option, because it wastes peoples time.

Occasional direct internal hires do not strike me as particularly problematic. A formal process would be good, so that it rewards good work rather than only internal connections.
Some interesting responses, but overall this whole situation reminds me why becoming an adjunct can be such a horrible deal for people.
I work in industry, not academia, and to me it seems kind of ridiculous to do a national search when you've got a candidate right there who has already proven themselves, who is already local, who will almost certainly take the job... You've already found what you'd hope the whole painful and expensive search process would turn up and without having to worry about the possibility of misjudging one another, so promote her already.

Full time positions are jobs, not prizes in some kind of contest. The goal is to fill them with competent people as efficiently as possible, not to award golden-tickets, Charlie and the Chocolate factory style, to deserving heroes plucked from obscurity.

I've heard the HR logic on this several times. But why is it potentially discriminatory to hire an internal applicant, unless your adjunct pool was hired based on discriminatory principles?

On another note, the harm done from a national search where you just collect applications is minimal. If you go through the trouble of interviewing people who have barely a snowball's chance in Miami, I think that's excessive.

Full disclosure: I recently applied for a job that I got interviewed for but did not get. I'm now in the process of applying for a *different* job, with the exact same group, that was posted specifically with me in mind. I'm hoping I don't jinx it.
It is entirely possible that the first job was *also* posted with somebody in particular in mind, but they got me and decided to roll with it.
Got to agree with Mary. In just about any area outside of academia, you promote from within for some very good reasons. There's always the argument for new blood but it's always countered with institutional knowledge and proven track record.

Why would faculty hiring have to be that different? Unless your shop requires an open search for every position regardless of the waste of time and internal options.
The simple answer is what do the institutions published rules require them to do, and if there are none, what is the unofficial policy and how consistently is it followed? Zero Tolerance produces some horrible results, but "sued for discrimination" is rarely on that list ("sued for bad policy" works best in situations where unwilling participation is compulsory").

Assuming there is no documented required answer and no consistent unofficial answer I assume there would be freedom to take either approach. If this is a Tenure-track position then for the benefit of the school it needs to be an open search with a serious intent to hire the best candidate possible - you're talking about a decision that could define the program for 30-40 years. If it's a non-Tenure-track position there's a good argument for hiring the existing adjunct in that it's a low-cost, high-speed solution that solves the existing need and if the person does not work out they can be replaced later.

In either case, the Program Chair needs to be terminated as soon as possible as they are unquestionably working against the school's best interests. Bypassing HR to create policy, making promises the school might not be legally able to honor, etc., might be personally convenient but create significant problems and hostility for everyone else.
Great comments!

One of them reminded me that we will hire into a full time non-tenure (but potentially multi-year renewable) position without an open search, although it would always meet the State's minimum advertising requirements.

Another comment reminded me that the CC context is crucial. Universities in my area will routinely hire into tenure-track or tenured positions without a search when they wish to do so.
In a world of unlimited resources, of course you do the search. Plenty of benefits--more work for administrators, more CYA, everyone gets a break from their daily grind. There is no such thing as a waste of time for anyone.

But in a world of constrained resources, you have critics who are wondering why you can't ever seem to get stuff done. The fact you would even ask this question proves their point. In a world that values efficiency and rewards demonstrated competence and service, you make the hire and move on. Quickly, and without handwringing.

It all depends upon which world you live in.
Usually there is mandatory, prescribed time period that a posting must be listed. To appease HR, post it for exactly that amount of time and not a minute longer. Anyone that knows about the position will have their application materials on stand-by and will be one of the first to throw their name in the hat.

Letter of the law: Met
Intent of the department: Met

I've seen this done by posting the search (as the university requires), but posting it in July for a position starting in August. This was a clever way of signaling to external candidates that we already had exactly the right person for the job, reducing the amount of paperwork and time-wasting.

Personally I agree with the commenter who said past performance is a better indicator than most hiring tests. On the other hand, this was at a rural university, where we often made offers to external candidates who declined due to our (rather desolate) location. And many, many TT candidates we hired from big cities would leave within the first year or two. Finding someone who is great at the job AND actually wants to live in the area was a rare golden opportunity.
We have a process to deal with this precise issue. If a truly competitive national search has been undertaken for a visiting position, say, then upon the establishment (or restoration) of a tenure-track position, the department can make a case for hiring the visiting person. The decision is the dean's. If no case is made, there's a search.

It's worked very well for us recently and seems to have been fairly applied.
I'm firmly on side with HR.

Promoting the idea that adjuncting long enough will get you a tenure-track position perpetuates the use of adjuncts in a system that lacks the money to pay FT faculty. The department approach provides false hope to SuperAdjuncts; ultimately, the budget determines how much hope there is of a tenure-track hire. While a national search is certainly sad in light of SuperAdjunct and GoodAdjunct's strong performances, picking favourites from amongst adjunct is a far more harmful way to go.
But the chair openly refers to the position as rightfully SuperAdjunct’s, and seems to resent even having to go through a process when it’s clear what the outcome should be.

So the chair has a favourite. That raises a red flag to me…

I've worked in places that hired like this. The people hired were not good colleagues, but they were good henchmen for the department head.

So I'd opt for a search, and make certain that the search committee really does consider all applicants, rather than being pressured into voting for the chair's favourite.
In industry (where I work) no question at all. If you have an internal candidate, you hire them: you know the downside, and it's fast and cheap.

I agree with the comment "If Super-Adjunct compares favorably with the existing permanent instructors (including teaching-wise), and they presumably were hired through some painstakingly official process, why trust the process to beat its own average?"
they presumably were hired through some painstakingly official process

I'd be surprised. The procedure to hire a adjunct is much less rigorous than to hire a full-time employee, at least in any college I've worked for. The person will only be around for a semester (at least, that is the presumption built into the hiring process) and often isn't the best person for the job — they were the the best person available on short notice, who was willing to take a short-term contract.

In the example given, we have someone who is apparently doing a good job (or at least impressing the department chair, which often isn't the same thing). But they may not be the best person. If the college was to do a wider search, a much better candidate might well emerge.

And if the department head is determined to hire the internal candidate, no matter who else applies, then they clearly aren't suited to be the head.
I'm assuming the "they" in "they were hired" refers to the existing tenured and tenure-track faculty.

SamChevre--same as 10:19 anonymous
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?