Monday, December 6, 2010

The hiring committee's moron: A Monday Thirsty.

The committee members usually agree on a handful of top applicants. Not perfect agreement, but it becomes obvious that several are the preferred candidates. It's not that the moron feels we should hire someone nobody else liked at all; it's that the moron is such an excessively vocal proponent for hiring that one particular candidate who apparently is the Second Coming of Jesus H. Christ. It's like the moron will pee in his/her pants if that particular candidate isn't chosen. It's almost embarrassing. And most of the rest of us sit around scratching our heads wondering why the moron likes that candidate SO MUCH.

Q. Does anyone ever actually say something to the moron (e.g., "Hey, what's up with your over-the-top love for that dude?")?

A. Worse yet, have you ever looked back and realized that you were the moron?


  1. Hmmm, the thing about being a moron is that you're the last to know. So it's quite possible I have been.

    But I've seen it. I think the obvious question is, "Do you happen to know this candidate in real life?" It usually becomes obvious that the candidate is a crony. It's harder if the candidate is someone the moron views as a younger version of himself/herself. I've heard of people who say they won't retire till the department agrees to hire their exact replacement in field and research interests, however obsolete either.

  2. I served on my department's last hiring committee several years ago. It was for a very specialized position, so we didn't get very many applicants. Of those we got we were easily able to weed out all but 10 because the rest were so awful. Of the 10, 8 agreed to interview.

    When it came time to separate the wheat from the chaff, two candidates stood out as excellent, and one was the proverbial C- student. He would have been adequate, but we were looking to start a whole new program and needed someone with specific education and experience he just didn't bring to the table. Our committee's moron fell in love with this guy. She'd never met him, but I think she liked him because he seemed "safe" in that familiar, boring way we're drawn to people who remind us of someone we knew. One of my colleagues then pointed out to me that this person was in fact almost identical (other than in age) to one of our department members. It seemed an odd attraction since the committee member wasn't particularly close to that colleague, but it was the only reason we could come up with.

    We argued until we finally agreed we would send his name forward as the distant third, alternate choice. The committee member was satisfied because she was convinced the other two candidates would bomb. Luckily they didn't and we ended up with an excellent colleague who is giving our new program exactly what it needs to grow and reach students.

  3. No, but the syndrome you describe is quite applicable to many other academic scenarios. Since graduate school, I've lost count of the sheer number of faceless mediocrities who have been enabled into coveted positions within the profession, matters of job market forces and merit notwithstanding--individuals whose teaching, writing, or administrative skills displayed little if any originality or insight and the mere mention of whose names still elicits everything from squeals of delight to furtive glances, sotto voce mutterings, dropped armloads of files, and pissed drawers from deathless departmental mossbacks. And lingering mystification from the rest of us.

  4. Ooh, ooh, this totally happens in my department. Except it's not just one moron, it will be approximately 1/3 of the faculty, who then browbeat the other 2/3 into going along with when we really needed someone who worked in Latin America and we hired a person who studies Australian Aborigines. We hired the Aus. scholar because he was, in the words of the hiring people, "so playful."

    I happened to be the grad rep to the faculty at the time, and I had to leave the room before I burst into tears.

    Interestingly...the final three were a white woman, a black man, and a white man. The white woman and the black man were both Latin Americanists. The white guy was...into Australia.

    Not everything is about race and gender, but it sure was odd....

  5. In my experience this is fairly common. Somebody always gets a committee crush on someone who turns out to be weak/unsuitable/fucked up in some way. There are different versions of the committee crush, but I think the most common by far is the narcissistic version wherein the committee member sees him/herself mirrored in the candidate.

    There is also the opposite syndrome--irrational committee hatred. I've never been a victim of the crush, but I have once or twice taken an intense dislike to a candidate's work. I've always tried to keep a lid on it and let the process work itself out, but it can be hard.

    The most important thing to remember is that your moron colleague is in the grips of an irrational response. She or he cannot be reasoned with--you are not going to talk him or her down from the tree on this one. Let the process run, and then if it looks like you are going to have some kind of showdown at the tenure corral over campus invites or ranking orders, then lay your cards down coldly and rationally. The best you can hope for is to get your other colleagues on your side. The moron is a lost cause.

  6. I think this always happens. It's often but not always the same moron. Some morons are simply contrarians.

    I've taken violently against candidates once or twice, and I certainly haven't been able to figure out WTF people were smoking, more than once. In my department the usual problem is that we're hiring for someone in ceramics, so the people who actually work in ceramics ought reasonably to have some influence on the decision, at least as regards assessment of the candidate's research. But invariably, someone in basketweaving or novelty gift-boxes or theoretical papier maché will fall in love with a candidate whose ceramics research simply doesn't hold water, and argue their case through thick and thin, because they simply don't grasp that if we're hiring a ceramics specialist, they should know something about pots.


    Black Dog, if in a Latin Americanist search they hired (the only) white, male Australianist because he was "playful", what they meant was "a good fit with the department; collegial". Which means "I'd like to go for a beer with him." Which means, "he's like me." So I'm guessing your department was predominantly white and male. And yes, that does go on a lot.

  7. I don't know how it breaks down morons vs. non-morons, but in my experience we always end up hiring the most average or mediocre candidate.

    And then we're surprised at how ordinary he/she is.

  8. This is why, when I was department chair, I always carried a taser. Once the moron is unconscious, the committee votes on final selection of candidates.

  9. P.S. What does the "H." stand for, by the way? I've always wondered.

  10. @Merely...Oh, baby, you know it. I should say, in the interest of preserving some illusion of anonymity, that these areas were not in fact the ones we were hiring for. But he was "playful" and I did almost cry.

    We are a discipline that prides itself on all kinds of racial/gender/religious/post-everything critique. People get very, very antsy when you suggest they might be exhibiting some sexism. If it wasn't so horrifying, it would be hilarious to watch them run in ideological circles attempting to justify their actions.

  11. "P.S. What does the "H." stand for, by the way? I've always wondered."
    - Froderick Frankenstien from Fresno

    Nobody knows; some people* think it stands for Harold (a mispronunciation of "hallowed" in the Lord's Prayer), or possibly Holy. The most accepted theory is that it came from the "divine monogram" IHC or IHS (being the first three letters in the Greek version of the name of Jesus.) Allegedly the expression dates from the 19th century.


    * mainly Wikipedia.


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