Panels and impressive candidates: the faculty hiring process

Panels and impressive candidates: the faculty hiring process

Rachel Kelly, Contributing Writer

The hiring of new faculty and staff is a constant and ongoing process at Macalester College. At the end of each year, departments submit requests to hire another staff or faculty member based on the needs of the department. If the request is approved, the lengthy hiring process begins. 

 “The process of hiring…certainly requires a substantial amount of work and focus that extends well beyond the everyday tasks of a chair,” wrote Professor Ray Rogers, head of the Geology department, in an email to The Mac Weekly.  “That said, it is essential work that aims to bring the best new professors to campus for our students.” 

Current tenured faculty members serve on the steering committees that read through applications and resumes and schedule interviews, as well as on-campus visits with potential hirees. Brian Lozenski, chair of the education studies department said that the involvement in the hiring search and decision making process is an expected part of the tenure role. 

“It does count towards what we call campus service and that is an expectation of all faculty that we do participate in service,” Lozenski said. 

Lozenski said that it was a significant time commitment to serve on the committee, nearly 40-50 hours, but that overall it didn’t detract energy from his other teaching duties. 

Staff members from other departments also typically serve on these committees, as well as two students from the department. Dean of Faculty Tom Halverson said that students served a crucial role in the hiring process.

“The student representatives on the committee have an equal voice in the decision process, and we usually ask them to speak first when we discuss a candidate. They also are really great about collecting the views of their fellow students, who meet with the candidates, attend a sample class, or go to the job talk, and present these views to the search committee,” Halverson wrote in an email to The Mac Weekly.

Despite the long and arduous process, Professor Ron Brisbois of the Chemistry department has served on almost 30 hiring committees. He said that he finds spending time in these spaces to be beneficial to his learning as a professor, since he has the opportunity to learn from his colleagues and the potential new hires. 

Spending a lot of quality time with my colleagues in the department [I] learn how they think about things and their strategies for evaluating and comparing their ideas for how we design questions to ask candidates. I always feel like I learn a lot doing that,” Brisbois said.

Of course, there are also challenges with the hiring process. Brisbois said that it is imperative for search committees to gather a group of candidates who reflect diverse backgrounds. According to Brisbois, certain fields of academia are smaller than others which make it harder for colleges to recruit large pools of diverse applicants.

“The number of PhDs produced in some areas who fit the kind of diversity profile the college wants to recruit is not as high as we would like it to be and that’s a problem that the country as a whole needs to work on, but that impacts on the ability to do recruitment,” Brisbois said.

Another challenge is finding times for the committee to meet. Typically, people who serve on these committees are busy with other projects, classes or other service projects. 

“Honestly, in my experience, finding time for us all to meet was perhaps the most challenging part of the whole process!” Rogers wrote. 

COVID-19 has presented new challenges as well, complicating an already complex process. Professor Kristina Curry Rogers of the biology department explained that teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for current faculty and impacted the hiring process.

“During this COVID era, [the hiring process] has been even more challenging, because I think both students and faculty really need to feel connected and in community with each other, but with less time and less in person experience, it’s been hard on everyone,” Curry Rogers wrote in an email to The Mac Weekly.

Halverson also mentioned the challenge COVID-19 has placed on job candidates. He asserted that the pandemic has made it harder for candidates to see the campus and the market for colleges looking for new hires is more competitive. 

“Some colleges and universities held back or put a freeze on hiring, and some graduate students decided to postpone graduating for a year,” Halverson wrote. “This means that the job market is really heating up with many colleges and universities hiring.”

According to Lozenski, colleges are competing for candidates that are impressive on all fronts.

“Just getting a chance to read and see all of the things that people were doing around the country and also internationally … There’s so many cool things happening right now and so many powerful scholars out there,” Lozenski said.