For the first time, I was invited to serve on a search committee for a professor position.
Professor Williamson, creator of the Export Odyssey experiential learning and trade promotion project, is retiring after next semester. We have been co-teaching the Export Odyssey class (MKT 426, International Marketing) for many years. So he and I and three other marketing professors make up the search committee. The new hire will teach the Export Odyssey class and other classes to be determined later.
The search is still in the works, so this post will have to go easy on the illustrative details (as with my most recent post about search committee work). But I have enjoyed experiencing the differences between how librarians conduct their searches at UNCG and Duke versus how professors conduct a search. Of course, this is my only experience of the later type, so my sample size is small.
Local context: UNCG librarians are hired as tenure-track faculty so scholarship is also required for us. We require a MLS from an ALA-accredited school, while this professor search requires a PhD or DBA from a business school accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB).
In addition to posting the job announcement to general (ex. Chronicle of Higher Education) and specific (AACSB’s BizSchoolJobs) job posting services, the marketing faculty on the search committee also utilized their own professional networks to encourage individuals to apply. I got a sense of how small a world an academic specialization can be. Working as a team, the four marketing professors on the committee seemed to have contacts at most of the schools with PhD programs in marketing. Maybe this level of networking isn’t too different from how closely academic business librarians network with each other, but the connections of senior faculty to the PhD students they guide and publish with doesn’t really have a counterpart in the librarian world. Our mentoring programs tend to be informal, and we aren’t in graduate school for very specialized research training for more than two years.
For this search, there was also much effort into recruiting candidates at conferences. Sure, there is the Placement Center at ALA conferences (where a booth costs $625 plus a minimum spend of $250 on JobList— yikes!) but the marketing professors coordinated a proactive recruitment effort to targeted individuals attending the conference. So before we formally talked to our top nine candidates (see below), a few candidates had already informally talked to one or two of the search committee members at a conference.
UNCG librarians talk and ask about research, publishing, and speaking in our interviews. But not surprisingly, there is greater emphasis in the business professor search on research. Existing publications, current research projects, and potential to publish enough to get tenured are big concerns. So we spend as much time talking about research as we do teaching. The position posting includes a long list of top journals that professors in the Marketing department have published in. But the ad also mentions teaching export promotion using experiential learning.
Unlike librarian candidates, the majority of the professor candidates are male. Also unlike librarian candidates, the professor candidates represent many nationalities. This reflects how ALA accreditation only covers two countries (U.S. and Canada) while AACSB accreditation covers 52 and counting. So the candidates represent a more diverse pool than I’m used to with librarian searches, in which the majority of the candidates are usually white. The professor search committee can fly in candidates from outside the U.S, although many of the non-native candidates already live and work in the U.S.
Nature & quality of applications
As expected, the average application package is longer than a librarian’s. The package includes a longer list of published research, plus sometimes commentary on a candidate’s research agenda and works in progress. Teaching evaluations – both statistical summaries of student evaluations and peer observation reports – and statements of teaching philosophies are often included.
Many cover letters are well-written, customized to the position, and incorporate research into UNCG, the business school, and marketing department.
And some cover letters focus on why this position would be great for the candidate, with no words concerning what the candidate would offer UNCG. Others read like generic cover letters written for any kind of position. Some cover letters consist mostly of bullet lists that summarize bullet points from the CV.
So the same mistakes librarian candidates sometimes make.
We scheduled interviews with ten top candidates via WebEx, with video. One dropped out of the search, so we conducted nine video interviews. We allocated an hour each; they lasted between 25 and 55 minutes. All nine within three days – a busy stretch. No technical problems at either end.
I remain interested in the question of video interviews versus phone interviews. As a search chair, I’ve only conducted phone interviews. I feel that not seeing the candidate helps limit bias. It’s also easier to schedule and simple to execute. But certainly it was nice to see the candidates on screen and their facial expressions and body language, and the candidates probably appreciated seeing us.
Our questions to the candidates centered on their interest in the position and UNCG, their research experience and goals, and the same for teaching. I was charged with asking about their interest in community-engaged experiential learning.
The candidate’s questions to us mainly concerned the timeline of the search, research expectations, teaching loads, and rank considerations. A few asked additional questions regarding the nature of students body as well as faculty relationships within the business school.
We are vetting our top candidates more than we usually do for librarian searches. In addition to receiving letters from all the official references, we are also calling additional faculty who have advised, taught with, or published with the candidates.
Respect for librarians?
In our WebEx interviews, I introduced myself as the UNCG business librarian, tenured member of the faculty, and co-teacher of the Export Odyssey class with Professor Williamson. None of the WebEx candidates expressed surprise that I was a member of this search committee. However, they already had a list of the committee members from the committee chair, and given the power dynamic of searches, it would have been foolish for any candidate to react to my presence with surprise. But based on our discussions, I do think that most of the candidates have respect for librarians and were glad that the Export Odyssey class has one on board.
The candidates will have a 1.5 day interview. I was surprised to learn that the business school doesn’t use the fancy hotel near campus that the library uses for its candidates, due to the cost.
The schedule isn’t too different from a librarian candidate schedule. Meet with the dean, department head, search committee, and other stakeholders. Tour the campus. But three differences:
- For their presentation, the candidates discuss one of their current research projects.
- We have the candidate visit with the office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development regarding research resources.
- We will also bring the candidates to a marketing class to provide a short (15 minute) lesson or presentation relevant to the class. These may be different classes, given the days each candidate will be on campus. Guest teaching will be interesting to see, and I’m curious to see what kind of feedback we collect. (I’ve heard of libraries who make their candidates teach a real workshop to real students. I’ve never liked that idea, but this short round of teaching is different I think.)
Conclusion and Lessons Learned
Serving on the search has been a new type of embedded work for me. I now have a better understanding of the research pressure that the professors face, the nature of their professional networks, and also what it’s like to be a freshly minted PhD in the job market.
I will be chairing another librarian search starting next month and will reconsider some of my usual practices, such as using only phones for the first round of interviews.