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How to Make the Faculty Hiring Process More Equitable and Effective

Good news, your department has gotten the go-ahead to proceed with hiring a new faculty member. Now what? 

All search committee members and academic leaders are expected to learn about effective and equitable practices for all stages of the hiring process. Duke’s offices for Faculty Advancement and Institutional Equity have a wealth of information and resources on how to recruit, hire and support the best new faculty members. 

On December 7, Abbas BenmamounSherilynn Black and Kimberly Hewitt presented an online workshop, Inclusive Faculty Searches. They discussed different scenarios and practices to strengthen the process, reviewed case studies and engaged with about 50 participating faculty. 

To assess participants’ areas of interest, the hosts began with a multiple-choice poll. More than a third of faculty recognized that improving the departmental climate is an important factor in attracting top talent; this represented a big increase from last year’s workshop. Half of this year’s participants were interested in optimizing the interview process, another notable increase.

Bar charts answering a question about issues related to faculty searches

Here are excerpts from the workshop:

On the Value of Diversity

Kimberly Hewitt, Vice President for Institutional Equity and Chief Diversity Officer

“We want to have a diverse community because of the advantages it brings to a university. The advancement of diversity necessarily benefits the breadth of our scholarship and decision-making.”

On Setting Ground Rules

Abbas Benmamoun, Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement

“We get excited when our Dean approves a search, and usually there is a committee … and someone is appointed the head of the committee and they are told to ‘do the search.’ We don’t get to look at past searches and assess what were some of the best practices and what are some things that could be learned.

“What I would suggest to members of search committees is to go to your Dean and ask, ‘What are some of the ground rules that you would recommend for us, what are some of the resources and how would you like us to update you?”

On Bias

Sherilynn Black, Associate Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement and Assistant Professor of the Practice of Medical Education

“When you are going through periods of perceived or actual stress or trauma, you tend to hold much more tightly to your innate tendencies, which are also your biases. What this means is in 2020 we are all being more biased than we normally would be.

“When you are dealing with so many other things going on, the way to make the quickest and most efficacious decision is to do things that feel comfortable and safe for you. But that [approach] is sometimes in direct opposition to a faculty search; you may need to think outside the box about someone who is studying a topic that may not seem as central to the way that we usually think about a field, or [when] bringing in someone who does not have the educational experiences that we are used to seeing.”

How Faculty on Search Committees Can Combat Bias

  • Outline a clear set of baseline practices and expectationsDo not operate on assumptions, and make all expectations transparent.
  • Standardize practices. Give each candidate as identical an experience as possible (Skype vs. speaking by phone, time of seminar during campus visit, types of questions asked).
  • Have an explicit discussion about the role of bias at the start of search proceedings, and engage in activities that will increase your knowledge about your own biases and the ‘group-dynamic’ bias that your committee will want to avoid (faculty rank influences on a committee, dominating voices overpowering others, not relying on one member to discuss topics such as race or gender).
  • Pre-establish built-in opportunities to do ‘bias checks’ throughout the process. Continually question if you are engaging in fair and equitable practices.
  • Give candidate statements related to contributions toward diversity and equity the same level of evaluation and rigor as statements on research or teaching. Utilize evaluation rubrics to be sure that each candidate is evaluated with similar levels of rigor and expectation.
  • Consider the climate of your department and address issues that may lead to bias during campus visits and beyond.

On Hiring During a Pandemic

Kimberly Hewitt

“We’re in a moment where our institution and others are in a period of constraint with respect to finances, so there is some extra pressure on us. We are having fewer opportunities to conduct searches because of the financial situation, and so the stakes are higher. This puts extra pressure on us to get it right, especially when we are focused on trying to bring in diverse candidates.

“In this unusual time, because we are doing the hiring entirely in virtual or hybrid platforms, [we should be] thinking about how we can be creative to maximize our best practices and how we can reimagine some of these strategies that we’ve developed for targeted searches.”

What Faculty Members Want to Know

Selected questions and answers from the workshop

How do we balance diversity with the idea that every interview experience should be the same?
Proceed by grounding the experience based on research and data, and providing each candidate with an equitable interview process and access to faculty groups that can offer support for their individual research, pedagogy, personal identity and personal interests.

If we bring in a colleague from an underrepresented group to join our department, are there resources and communities in place to support their retention?
Because so many departments have a scarcity of diversity, it is important that they network and find groups that are committed to a new hire’s success. This is critical to the retention of diverse faculty members by helping them navigate a successful career path.

Do you have suggestions about how to do a ‘bias check’ and keep things equitable when a candidate is well known to the school?
Use established criteria for assessing each candidate and follow the process agreed upon at the start of the search. Dismiss information that falls outside of the processes agreed upon during the search.