Thursday, February 23, 2006

In Which I Resort to Semaphore, Trumpets, Flashing Arrows, and a Spotlight

Danigirl occasionally posts what she calls ten-pages-in book reviews, in which she gives her impressions of a book she just started. It’s a cool idea, though I haven’t felt strongly enough early enough about a book to imitate it, until now.

I just started the 2006 edition of The Search Committee Handbook: A Guide to Recruiting Administrators, by Theodore Marchese and Jane Fiori Lawrence (Stylus Pub.). (Yes, I’m a nerd.) It’s a foundation supported guidebook for colleges and universities to give their search committees when recruiting deans and vp’s. On page ix of the introduction, Marchese and Lawrence observe:

The most significant – and least understood – change [in administrative searches since the first edition of the book came out in 1987] is the recent sharp decline in the size of applicant pools for administrative posts. In 1987, search committees placed ads and watched confidently as 100 to 200 applications arrived in the mail. Today, the same ad might bring 20 to 40 applications…The reasons for this sharp drop in the size of pools are many, albeit speculative. The tragic events of September 11, 2001, may have played a role in convincing more professionals to adopt a ‘stay put’ mentality toward their homes and careers. The cumulative effects of poor treatment in prior searches deter candidates from entering subsequent searches. The phenomena of dual careers, promotion from within, housing market distortions, restrictive pension rules, and geographic preference also keep candidates from moving. Too, able young faculty and staff look at the work demands that come with an administrative position, and at the revolving doors through which middle and senior managers come and go, and decide to pass on the ‘opportunity.’


If the kids weren’t in bed, I would have thrown the book at a lamp.

They start with an observation that I’ve seen echoed elsewhere, that the pool of candidates for administrative positions is shallower than it has been in a long time, and the trend is accelerating. Okay, interesting. And the reasons they offer?

September 11: Uh, no. That might explain a sharp drop that particular year, but the trend started well before 2001, and is still accelerating.

Poor treatment in prior searches: Presumably, this isn’t markedly worse than in the past. It’s real, but it can’t explain change.

Dual careers: Damn those women, getting jobs! Except they had jobs in the 80’s and 90’s, too. Not the culprit. Besides, some of those jobs were as administrators!

Promotion from within: Not new.

Housing market distortions: Okay, there’s something to this, but it would only explain regional drops, not national ones. Fewer Ohioans apply to schools in New York City? Could be housing. But if housing were the critical variable, we’d expect to see more New Yorkers apply in Ohio. Not the case.

Restrictive pension rules: Pensions are more portable now than they were then.

Geographic preference: Yeah, nobody had geographic preferences in the 80’s.

Revolving doors: Not new.

This stuff makes me nuts.

What’s the missing variable?


Hint: The median age of full-time faculty at my college is 59.

Hint: key on that phrase, “able young faculty....”

Hint: the job market for new Ph.D.’s looking for tenure track jobs has stunk for 30 years.


Let’s see, the pipeline starts with the faculty. Able young faculty, once they’ve shown their mettle after some time as full-timers, are the farm team for new managers. We haven’t hired able young faculty in meaningful numbers since the Nixon administration.


Could it be that glaringly obvious and huge labor market distortions have something to do with it? Could it be that most faculty, by their 60’s, have pretty clearly made up their minds about going into administration, and have either done it by then or have no intention of it? Could it be that a foundation-funded study missed something so breathtakingly basic that a blogger could find it on the first frickin’ page?

Nah. Must be the wives. First they got the vote, now this…