Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Search Fuzziness.

As the recent winner of a fairly cool search process that brought me to a lovely SLAC in the Pacific Northwest, I'm a bit averse about criticizing how our college does business.

But at the last minute I got put on a search committee from another department as an "observer." My job is to offer an outsider's perspective AND to fill out a series of EEOC surveys at the end, showing, ideally, that all manner of equal opportunity were available to all candidates.

Easy, right?

Except when it's not.

The main problem has been that what the committee is looking for, focusing on, discussing, is only one part of the job ad. In fact it's the secondary feature of the job ad. The main idea, the main set of duties, the main discipline, is never talked about, and has even been sort of joked about.

The ad says, roughly, "We're seeking a zip line specialist, who has some background in liquefying sand. A secondary interest in deconstructing butterfly wings would be preferred."

"Oh, look," one member said. "Another zip line specialist! They're everywhere!"

"That's crazy," said another. "Can he liquefy sand? That's really what we're looking for."

Folks around the country (90 at this early date) with zip line experience have been sending in their letters and dossiers hoping this would be their dream job.

When I asked about the zip line requirement in the ad, one member told me, "Well, the last department member we had was a zip liner. We have to show the administration we're just taking over the old line and not asking for a new one. We won't get to keep the salary any other way."

And there it was. Bait and switch.

I was told by the Dean's office that I was just to offer perspective as we went along, and that the committee had 100% latitude to do what they wanted. But it feels wrong. I want to speak up, but suspect that it will cause nothing but trouble.


  1. Poor job ad wording. They should have given sand liquefaction equal billing with zip lines.

    Or they could have gotten honest:

    "The dean wants us to hire someone with expertise in zip lines, but we really need someone who liquifies sand." It might even have made it out the door, depending on how on-the-ball said dean is.

  2. My experience with search committees is limited to my current department but I think this is SOP for all sorts of budgetary decisions. It's equivalent to spending as much of your department's money by the end of the fiscal year so you don't lose the leftover amount next year.

  3. Darla, unfortunately this is how the game is played. Hiring committees are notorious for this. My dean stacked the ad one way, while the hiring committee went an entirely different direction. Just watch and keep quiet. Complain to College Misery. We will understand.

    1. And we will also take note for future job searches of our own. Thanks for sharing, Darla!

  4. Oy! Yes, I can see exactly how this situation would arise, frequently, in the current academic/budgetary context.

    I think it's useful information for those trying to read job ads (and for that I thank you). Beyond that, I'm not sure whether it's a solvable problem, at least not without solving some much larger problems.*

    *Chief among them micro-managing/bullying by Deans and other administrators who think they know what a department needs better than the department itself. The opposite but equal corollary, of course, is when the administration wants the department to hire the shiny new thing (distance ed! DH!! -- and yes, I support both of those, but not in a knee-jerk way), while the department knows that what it really needs is someone who can teach longstanding bread-and-butter core and major classes. This latter is a sure path to hiring a gumdrop unicorn.

  5. I wish committees would write in code so we all knew to not apply for jobs that: (1) are token advertisements when they've already promised the job to someone else; (2) expect to hire someone with OTHER skills, like Darla mentions here; (3) aren't going to hire and just want to go through the motions to then claim there were no eligible candidates in the whole country so they can feel superior about their not having hired anyone. Can we just come up with some code, please?


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