Ph.D.'s Gotta Ph.D.: 4 Ways Academic Staffing Differs from Traditional Staffing

by Matthew Stollak on Tuesday, March 3, 2015

As we head into spring, most colleges and universities are currently wrapping up or have already completed, their search for tenure-track faculty members.  Having served on five search committees for our department over the past four years, and as an outside member for several other searches, here are four ways academic staffing differs from traditional staffing.

1.  Faculty run the search, not HR.

From writing the job placement ads to corresponding with potential candidates who respond, it is the faculty members on the committee responsible for conducting and leading the search. They are the ones who travel to conferences to interview prospective candidates. They are the ones sifting through (often) hundreds of vitae to narrow the field (no ATS here).  They are the ones on the phone interviewing their top 10 candidates.  They are the ones who host the top 3-4 candidates on the on-campus interview and recommend their choice to the Dean for approval.  HR will review the placement ad, conduct background checks, and work with the Dean on salary recommendations, but, for the most part, it is the faculty's show.

Why faculty, and not HR?  Presumably only other faculty members are uniquely qualified to judge the merits of other faculty on topics such as quality of research.

2.  A.C.R.E.A.M. (Academic Calendars Rule Everything Around Me)

Unlike traditional recruiting, the academic calendar is the master that oversees the search.  There is only one date that most colleges and universities use to guide their decision - the start of the Fall quarter or semester.  One of our current searches is in its last throes.  Unless a miracle candidate suddenly falls in our lap, we will begin our search for a tenure-track management professor this summer for someone to start in August of 2016. Yes, August 2016.  

The job placement ad will be sent out in June of 2015.  The major academic conference (Academy of Management) takes place in August of 2015 (in Vancouver).  Not only is it the meeting place for sharing and discussion of the latest in academic research, but it is the largest job fair for academics (we interviewed 32 candidates during the conference several years ago).  Fall 2015 will be a review of additional vitae, and, if lucky, phone/skype interviews with the top 8-10 candidates.  If all goes well, top candidates will be invited to campus in November, with a recommendation (if any) to hire by December of 2015.  As the Fall schedule is being set in February/March, colleges and universities want someone in place to be able to offer the courses needed for students to graduate. Most want to be able to offer a name next to the course instead of "TBD" or "Staff" (though if your last name is "Staff," you'll be teaching A LOT of courses).  Which means....

3.  ....Your hire may not start for several months

A new academic hire usually will not start in two weeks after being selected.  For some positions, it may be 8-10 months before he or she steps foot on campus to begin the new role.  It is unusual for a new hire to start at the beginning of the spring semester/quarter.  There is certainly a "secondary" market that exists in the spring consisting of those not initially chosen in the Fall, as well as those colleges and universities dealing with the ripple effect of someone departing.  Colleges and universities also recognize that a faculty member may always leave, and its too disruptive to try to find a replacement in that short time for a specific set of courses.

4. A new hire is on board a minimum of two years

Colleges and universities not only hire slow, but fire even slower.  Most tenure-track hires are often given two or three years to show proficiency in the classroom.  Scholarship takes several years to come to fruition.  Unless the hire clearly demonstrates incompetency or does something so egregious to warrant termination, he or she will be with the organization for several years before potentially losing his or her job for poor performance.

So, HR folk, is academia doing it wrong?