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Structural Problems with the Search Committee Process

Posted on: March 27th, 2012 by academickeys No Comments

Higher education search committees can make the search less cumbersome for some or more burdensome for others when hiring a new president or professor. An ideal search committee is made up of members from the faculty and students. The number of members depends on the size of the university, the department and the position vacancy.

Depending on the institution, a professor’s class schedule, time used in preparation for teaching, research, publication and administrative duties can dominate their schedule and detract from the committee’s true purpose. The search committee becomes a source of resentment for professors preventing them from concentrating on tasks that further their personal interests and the interests of the university.  This leads to short cuts in the search. The shortcuts may include skimming through resumes, handing them to assistants to read through or tossing them up in the air and picking the ones that land on top. Additional short cuts may be taken when conducting background checks, talking with references and not adequately preparing for the interview.

To further complicate the professor’s time constraints applicants may provide more information and materials then requested. Although this might be easy to disseminate and withdraw that application packet, it also takes time to distinguish which applicant followed the instructions for applying and which did not.

Divided interests can distract the members from focusing on the needed end result. If a member is invited to be on the committee but doesn’t have an interest in the new hire then an attitude of “this is not my problem” may occur resulting in a lethargic member. If a committee member will be working directly with the new hire they may try to put off the process due to fear of change or an uncertain future.

A common problem within search committee’s is the dominance of one or two members. A committee chair that is only interested in promoting his or her interests will not encourage the group to work for the best interest of the university and its students. At the same time a member who may have a personal agenda concerning the vacancy may sabotage the efforts of the committee.  Personal power struggles lead to intimidation, repercussions for disagreements, lack of opportunity to speak freely and general chaos within the group. A search committee that has a hard time working together will have a harder time finding an appropriate candidate to fill position.

The final decision can be made by the committee chair abusing their authority and making the decision without the input of the committee. If everyone is getting along and working well together it will come down to a group agreement. However, if one or two people are looking out for their own interest a decision may be made that will result in another search committee looking again for a suitable candidate.


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