Initiating the Search

Charge to the Search Committee

Once the search committee has been established, an important part of initiating the search process is providing direction and guidance to the search committee to ensure that they understand their task and their responsibilities.  Clear directions from the Dean or Departmental Chair will assist in focusing the steering committee on equitable search practices and in identifying women/visible minorities for positions.  PowerPoint presentations are provided in the ‘Resources’ section which summarize relevant literature and outline key topics for discussion by the search committee.  You are encouraged to modify them to suit your particular search.  See also this section ( Outreach Plan) of the Academic Administrative Procedures Manual.

Initiating the Search Process

There are a number of steps involved in beginning the search process including defining the position and establishing search criteria.  Each of these is discussed below.  The PowerPoint presentations discussed above also cover these issues.

Defining the Position

One of the first and most important tasks for the Search Committee is to define the position.  This process will determine the general scope of the position.  It will identify the skills, experience, qualifications, knowledge and attributes a candidate will need to successfully perform and it will assist in developing the selection criteria.

In order to ensure a fair and equitable process, the following guidelines are useful:-

  • While you should reach a consensus on the area of specialty, it is also important to develop broad hiring goals. 
  • Make sure that the position description does not needlessly limit the pool of applicants.  Some position definitions may exclude female and visible minority candidates by focusing too narrowly on subfields.
  • Consider ‘cluster hiring’ in order to create a critical mass of people in a particular area.  This avoids feelings of tokenism if someone is the only person hired to work in a particular field (e.g. one black woman to work in Caribbean Studies).

Discussion questions to consider could include:-

  • What are the goals of our department/ faculty for the next 5 (10, 15) years?
  • Do we provide a sufficiently broad range of subject matter in our course provisions?
  • What are the new areas of research and scholarship that we should encourage?
  • In what areas are there new or growing opportunities for research funding?
  • Are there opportunities for joint appointments, faculty collaboration or ‘cluster hiring’?
  • What is the purpose of this position (e.g. replacement of departing faculty member, development of specific research or teaching area)?

Your Search Committee should also reflect on the current profile of the department and consider issues of diversity and excellence by examining:-

  • The current distribution of the faculty.
  • The diversity of new hires that may have occurred over the last few years.
  • The representation of women and visible minorities both in the faculty and within the pools of past potential candidates.
  • Areas of new and emerging scholarship that may increase faculty diversity.
  • The ‘state of the field’ both nationally and internationally.

You might find it useful to designate different committee members to take responsibility for these areas and report back to the other members.

Establishing Criteria

As a group, the committee should determine the criteria that the prospective candidates need to meet in order to be considered for the shortlist, for interview and for the position.  It is important that these criteria are determined early in the search process so that they can not be changed – ‘adjusting’ the criteria throughout the process can significantly disadvantage women and visible minority candidates.  Research (Sagaria 2002) indicates that altering the ‘filters’ used to determine a shortlist can exclude candidates who were acceptable under the established criteria.

You may wish to consider the following points of best practice drawn from a number of institutions across North America:-

  • Establish the procedures for screening, interviewing candidates and keeping records before advertising and receiving material from applicants.
  • Get committee consensus on how different qualifications will be weighted. 
  • Plan to create multiple short lists based on different criteria (e.g. teaching, research and service).
  • Make sure that hiring criteria are directly related to the requirements of the position, clearly understood, and accepted by all members of the committee.
  • Consider, among selection criteria, the ability of the candidate to add intellectual diversity to the department, and demonstrated ability to work with diverse students and colleagues.