September 1, 2016
Posed to: John Delaney, President, University of North Florida
What can they do to ensure that administrative searches are conducted with integrity and that the voice of the search committee and the faculty are taken into consideration when final decisions are made on the hiring of academic administrators? There have been a series of searches from the Provost to the COAS Interim Dean and others that did not fully respect the principle of faculty governance or the value of search committee input in the selection process.
Strange as it may seem, we appreciate this question. It provides an opportunity to discuss the search process that is used for the hiring of academic administrators, and the important roles that are played by the participants in these processes. There are occasions in which a formal search process is not used, but excepting those instances, we believe that searches are conducted in an honest and fair manner, i.e., with integrity. We currently have several searches underway: COAS dean, BCH dean, Honors dean, and Division of Continuing Education dean. The details of the search process may vary from one college or unit to another, depending on the existence of by-laws in a particular unit.
In COAS, for example, the college by-laws stipulate that each department must elect a member to serve on the search committee. Presumably, these are fair and open elections. Typically, additional members may be appointed to permit representation of A&P employees in the college, the dean’s advisory council, and to assure diversity. The dean typically designates the member from the dean’s advisory council, and may make recommendations concerning other appointments. Not surprisingly, the search process in COAS resulted in a large and, we believe, representative search committee. In the case of the COAS dean search, a dean was appointed to chair the committee. The provost meets with the search committee to assure them that they will control the search process up to and including the on-campus interviews. Following the on-campus interviews, the committee is asked to provide the provost with an unranked list of acceptable candidates, with feedback from the committee regarding strengths and weaknesses of each acceptable candidate. The provost always assures the committee that no one will be hired who is deemed unacceptable by the search committee. Using the position description from the previous COAS dean search, the search committee discussed, drafted, and approved a position description, which is used in the on-line vacancy announcement and the advertisement(s) of the vacancy. Of course, Equal Opportunity and Diversity staff meet with the search committee, and a majority of the committee members must undergo EOD training. For this particular search, the position was listed as “open until filled” with a set review date. Once that review date is reached and EOD has certified the pool of applicants, the committee begins the application review process.
The search committee typically creates a scoring rubric based on the required and preferred qualifications of each candidate. Through a process developed solely by the search committee, the number of applicants is narrowed to a short list of approximately 3-5 candidates, and these candidates are invited for on-campus interviews. It is important to note, that up to this point, the only decisions made in the process are those of the members of the search committee; they have total control of the pool of applicants and the determination of which applicants are moved forward and which are eliminated. So, in the example of the COAS dean search, the committee alone reviews typically about 100 applications, skype interviews approximately 15 applicants, and from that skype interview pool, determines which 3-5 candidates should be invited for on-campus interviews. Following the on-campus visits, the search committee reviews the feedback received from those who participated in the interview process, discusses each of the candidates, and determines which are acceptable or not. The provost meets with the search committee to listen to their assessments. Finally, the names of those deemed acceptable by the search committee are forwarded to the provost for further consideration, and, hopefully, a decision to extend an offer to one of the acceptable candidates.
While the questioner may think that the search committees do not operate with integrity, I suspect the belief is that it is from this point forward that the integrity of the process breaks down. The questioner states that “There have been a series of searches … that did not fully respect the principle of faculty governance or the value of search committee input in the selectin process.” If we are interpreting the question correctly, we respectfully disagree.
First, it is always made clear to the search committee at the beginning of the process that the decision regarding extending an offer to someone rests with the hiring officer. In the Office of Academic Affairs, the provost has that responsibility.
Secondly, it is clearly stated that only those candidates the search committee finds to be acceptable will be considered for an offer. However, this is not an election, and the candidate with the highest number of search committee votes does not automatically receive an offer. Indeed, this is one reason the search committee is asked not to rank order the candidates.
The “principle of faculty governance” does not mean that the search committee makes the decision as to whom is offered a position. Clearly, the input from the search committee is highly valued. It is the search committee that decides to eliminate about 95 percent of the applicants from further consideration. It is the search committee that decides who gets invited for on-campus interviews. It is the search committee that decides, following the on-campus interviews, if a candidate is still acceptable or not. It is the search committee that provides input on the strengths and weaknesses of the acceptable candidates. Search committees will base their assessments on their opinions and those of others who provide feedback to the committee. Typically, the search committee assesses such factors as the competence of the applicant to perform the job at UNF; their relevant experience and leadership style related to our needs; their interpersonal skills; their personality, and other attributes. There is an extensive list of qualities that we would like to know about the candidate, including such things as their willingness to work hard, the degree to which they are highly motivated, their level of self-confidence, their judgment, their commitment to UNF, their integrity, their supervisory skills, and their sense of humor, to name just a few. Additionally, we are interested, for example, in the degree to which any particular candidate will complement and work effectively with others, such as department chairs, deans, and other senior administrators; their effectiveness in developing and working with external constituencies, the complementarity between a candidate and others in academic affairs. We also think that there are times when a college may benefit from external experience, and other times when internal stability is more desirable. These are just some of the considerations that should be added to the input received from the search committee.
In the search process for the COAS dean that occurred during the 2015-16 academic year, there were three candidates forwarded by the search committee for consideration. After meeting with the search committee, receiving their feedback, soliciting feedback from other constituents, and based on the assessment the assessment of the candidates by the provost and the president, it was decided that it was in the best interest of the College of Arts and Sciences and UNF to not extend an offer to any of the three final candidates and re-open the search. Even though the search committee found the three candidates to be “acceptable”, it was our belief that we had not yet found the right person to lead COAS. The provost met with the committee to discuss this decision. No one on the search committee objected to this decision, voiced concern that it did not respect the principle of faculty governance or value the search committee’s input in the selection process. These are critically important searches, and it is extremely important that we hire someone about whom we (both faculty and administration) are confident that she or he is the right person for this challenging leadership position. Interestingly, we had a similar experience in the search for the dean of COEHS, and have had, we believe, a very positive outcome.
The COAS dean search has been re-opened and, to date, the search committee has received more than 100 applications. The posted review date is September 30 and at that time, the committee will begin the process of assessing these applicants and reducing the number to be further considered. We are very grateful to the committee members for this arduous, time consuming task. The work they do is very important. The provost has again met with the committee and asked for an unranked list of those candidates that they determine to be acceptable, along with their assessment of each candidate’s strengths and weaknesses. We are confident that the members of the search committee will do their part, and, to the best of our ability, we will do ours. Additionally, we need to emphasize the importance of faculty participation during the interview process. The search committee creates fairly rigorous on-campus schedules for candidates including an opportunity for college faculty who are not on the search committee to attend interview sessions. We believe it is incumbent upon the faculty to exercise their right to participate and evaluate these candidates so that the committee has as much input as possible during that part of the process. We assure you that the voice of the search committee and the faculty will be taken into consideration in making the final decision.