Monday, March 26, 2012

The Final Candidates

We are just completing our search for the founding dean of our School of Engineering and Applied Science.  The finalists are all impressive but the search process itself has also been impressive.  In doing a search, the process and transparency matter as much as the results.  This was made clear in a recent conversation with a friend who is visiting another school for a semester.  This school doesn’t have a tradition of shared governance, doesn’t provide for a strong faculty voice even on faculty issues, doesn’t have open searches for key positions, and doesn’t provide for transparency.  Consequently, the faculty who should take key leadership roles and who would make a clear and positive difference, just sit on the sidelines as much as they can or else they look to leave.

Our process started with the election of the 6 faculty representatives on the search committee, which in this case came from the two departments involved in the new school, engineering and computer science.  Given the respective sizes of the department, four engineering faculty (including the department chair) were elected and two computer faculty (also including the department chair).  In addition to the faculty there are three senior administrators (including me) and three trustees .  The faculty, administrators and our search firm consultant next determined a preliminary search timetable and also determined where ads and announcement should go in addition to the search/recruitment activities that all of us, especially the search firm, would be involved in.

All of us looked at every resume that came in. There was no preliminary screening undertaken, but there was a firm commitment on the part of every person on the committee that we would preserve all candidates’ confidentiality up to the point that they had been selected to be, and agreed to be finalists. Once a person became a finalist, the identities of the finalists would be made known to all the faculty and we would then undertake comprehensive due diligence.

Coming up with a list of individuals to interview was not easy.  First, we had many highly qualified candidates and second we were sometimes far apart initially on some of the preliminary ranking.  We kept at it and ultimately came up with a list of 10 candidates to interview.  Not every committee member voted in favor of all ten.  Most did however, and those who didn’t at least knew that their voices had been heard and considered.

As a committee, we interviewed every candidate for an hour.  We did 4 interviews on the first day; 6 on the second; and the final two shortly thereafter.  Though in previous high level academic searches, we have interviewed up to 8 candidates on a single day, I am more and more certain that up to four in a single day is the right number and that 6 or 8 is simply too many given the attention that needs to be paid to each.

Once the interviews were complete, we also completed our list of finalists.  Just as we were doing so, one superior candidate withdrew from the search for personal reasons but the pool was robust enough that we could just move on.  Once again we did not all agree on every finalist.  But there was a high level of agreement as we fully discussed every candidate and provided all the time necessary to make all views known and bring all pertinent facts to the attention of the committee. 

And here we are, the finalists are selected, and checking of references is underway.  But we do more than just check with the names on the list that the candidate has provided us with.  We insist on checking off the list as well, and many of us on the committee are making use of the contacts we have at the schools the candidates work at.

We have also scheduled an entire day of follow up meetings with each of the finalists, including a key meeting with the President of the University as well as important meetings with the faculty, other academic deans,  students, the Provost’s office, and, if time permits, some community leaders in related areas.  Those follow up meetings have started to take place. I can’t predict the person to be chosen as yet, but I know already that this process works very well.  And now stay tuned; I think the best is yet to come. 

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