Setting up the Search Committee

Introduction

One of the very first steps in embarking on the search for a new faculty member is the formation of a search committee.  Its composition and structure are extremely important because it sets the tone for the search and therefore the success of your recruitment process.  Research has found that more diverse hiring occurs when the search for new faculty is conducted by an ethnically/racially diverse search committee (e.g. Bugliani 1992; Smith et al 2004) and that the attitude and action of the search committee chair can significantly influence selection (Sagaria 2002).

In setting up your search committee, you should strive for diversity.  By involving people with a variety of perspectives and backgrounds or by bringing in someone with fresh ideas, you ensure that a wide range of ideas and outlooks will be brought to bear on the selection process.  At the same time, you must carefully consider the dynamic within the search committee.  While diverse representation is important, junior faculty who are women or people of colour may be put in uncomfortable positions if they disagree with more senior colleagues.

Qualifications of a Search Committee member

Serving on a search committee may be one of the most significant opportunities a faculty member has to serve the University community because they are acting both as the public face of the University while also contributing to its long term future.  Candidates who appear before the search committee will need to be persuaded about the benefits of joining the University as well as screened for professional experience and personal characteristics – it can be demanding to perform both roles simultaneously.  Committee members will need to be able to ask difficult questions in order to assess candidates’ qualifications as well as their ‘fit’ within the department and discipline.

Selecting a Search Committee

There are several general considerations to keep in mind when selecting a search committee.  First, ensure that the people you select are knowledgeable about the future direction of the department or faculty.  Second, recruit members to the search committee who have a proven track record of good judgement about people.  Third, make sure that the search committee members are not stretched too thinly and will have sufficient time to dedicate to the process.  Finally, ensure that the search committee is representative of the breadth and depth of both your discipline and the University. 

The Academic Administrative Procedures Manual recommends that search committees are chaired by department chairs or a dean; multi-departmental faculties should also have a Decanal Assessor, while Provost’s Assessors serve on search committees in single-department faculties; the graduate chair (or designate) should also be included.  Each member of the search committee must be given a copy of Information for Search Committees which can be found in the Academic Administrative Procedures Manual (http://www.provost.utoronto.ca/English/Section-II.html#Composition of the Search Committee). 

Below are listed a number of models which have been used at different universities across North America in forming search committees.

Models

It is not always the case that Search Committees must be formed from senior members of faculties or departments.  Some institutions have tried different profiles of search committees and you may find one of these alternatives useful in forming your Search Committee:-

  1. In faculties or departments where there are a limited number of women or people of colour, graduate students from the program could be included.
  2. Inclusion of women or people of colour from aligned disciplines may also assist in broadening the profile of the search committee as well as resulting in longer-term benefits such as graduate recruitment or research collaboration.
  3. Inclusion of faculty members with a commitment to issues of equity and diversity.
  4. Carnegie Mellon University promotes the use of interdisciplinary search committees as a means to meet the needs for a diverse profile but also to provide some breadth to the search committee process.
  5. The University of Washington suggests including an administrative person on the Search Committee to monitor the number of diverse applicants and to advocate for diversity throughout the process.
  6. Likewise, Carleton University suggests that a faculty member from a different department may also be helpful in keeping a focus on equity and diversity.
  7. Administrative staff on the Search Committee can often provide information and advice to the candidate which is outside the experience of the academic faculty.