University of Oregon

Search Committees

Common practice at most US colleges and universities is to create faculty search committees that represent diverse points of view and perspectives.  Including underrepresented (UR) faculty is a central aspect of committee diversification.

The University of Oregon has long followed this practice with the Unclassified Appointments Process advising that:

“the search committee should be composed of individuals from diverse background in order to provide a variety of perspectives, as well as sensitivity to affirmative action issues.”

Where UR faculty from within the department are not available, UO policy suggests that the individual appointing the committee:

“may wish to enlist the aid of women and minorities either from departments within the school or college or from related academic or administrative areas.”

There are several ways in which including UR faculty on a search committee can enhance the quality of the search process and increase the likelihood of hiring women and people of color.

First, candidates are more likely to be judged by those with a variety of experiences, insights, and perspectives.  Multi-angled considerations may lead to search committee conversations that expand the definition of a “strong candidate” and impact which candidates make it to a short list and/or are offered a position.

Second, the professional networks of a diverse search committee, complimenting the networks of the faculty as a whole, are likely to contribute to a diverse candidate pool.

Third, representation of UR faculty on a search committee can communicate to candidates that the voices of URs matter in the department and draw more serious consideration by strong UR candidates.

  • Research has found that search committees that include women are more likely to have women as semifinalists and to make an offer to a woman. (Inside Higher Education, 2008)
  • Research has found that for every additional woman on a seven-member panel reviewing a hire or promotion at the full professor level, the chances of success by a female candidate increased by 14% (Inside Higher Education, 2011).

Yet, there are also inherent challenges to search committee diversification, particularly in departments with few UR faculty.  The following outlines some of those challenges:

  • Fewer UR faculty in a department often means that these faculty members are asked to serve on search committees with much greater frequency than white male faculty.  This can contribute to a higher service load for UR faculty, and less time for research.
  • There can be the assumption that one’s identity as a woman or a person of color means that they will have a particular point of view, will be more able to identify and address unconscious bias or will be more knowledgeable about search-related best practices than white people or men.  This assumption may not be accurate.
  • Some may have the experience, real or perceived, that a UR faculty member is asked to sit on the search committee ONLY to fulfill the goal of diversification, but with little thought to other contributions that such an individual will make to the search process.
  • Unintended consequences may result when junior UR faculty are asked to serve on search committees with tenured majority faculty. Junior faculty members may be in an untenable position if they challenge the thinking or decisions of the tenured faculty members who will later vote on their tenure and promotion. (Sotello Viernes Turner, 2002).

The following are suggestions for addressing the above challenges:

  • Awareness of these challenges is an important first step.
  • Forthright conversations between the department head and potential UR search committee members can address some of these issues before search committee membership is finalized.
  • In situations where a department is unable to identify an UR faculty member, it is important to assure that the committee has at least one member who is knowledgeable and sensitive to issues related to gender or racial bias and to search-related recommended practices, and is willing and able to speak to these issues during the search process. Hiring authorities need to assure that they appoint someone who meets these criteria to each search committee. In addition, search committees need to hear from the hiring authority that it is the responsibility of all the committee members to assure an inclusive process that reflects recommended practices.

Resources

Bagues, M., Zinovyeva, N. (2010).  Does gender matter for academic promotion?  Evidence from a randomized natural experiment.  Retrieved from http://www.voxeu.org/index.php?q=node/5943

Jaschik, Scott. (2011).  Impact of women on search committees.  Inside Higher Education.  Retrieved from http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2011/01/03/impact_of_having_women_on_search_committees

Jashchik, Scott. (2008).Keys to hiring women in science. Inside Higher Education. Retrieved from http://www.insidehighered.com/layout/set/print/news/2008/08/05/women

Page, Scott. (2007).  The difference:  How the power of diversity creates better groups, firms, schools and societies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Smith, D., Turner, C., Osei-Kofi, N.,  & Richards, S. (2004).  Interrupting the usual: Successful strategies for hiring diverse faculty.  Journal of Higher Education.  Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/openurl?volume=75&date=2004&spage=133&issn=00221546&issue=2

Turner, C. (2002).  Diversifying the faculty:  A guidebook for search committees.  Washington, DC:  Association of American Colleges & Universities.

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