Faculty Search Committees: What Are They and What Do They Do?

April 6, 2023 Watermark Insights

Faculty Search Committees: What Are They and What Do They Do?

Faculty search committees are integral in hiring quality faculty members from diverse backgrounds. They manage the hiring process to ensure equity in hiring academic staff. The search committee is a hiring committee dedicated to positioning a higher learning institution to attract and engage the best possible candidates. 

Whether you've been asked to be a member or are applying for a job through one, it's best to understand what the search committee is and what they do. Then you can comprise a list of questions to ask your search committee and develop a strategy aligned with your end goal. 

What Is a Faculty Search Committee?

A higher education institution appoints a faculty search committee to oversee the recruitment and hiring processes for multiple or specific vacancies. They handle every aspect of the recruitment process, from creating the original job posting to reviewing applications, interviewing shortlisted individuals, and selecting successful applicants. 

Within the recruitment and selection process, the faculty search committee is also responsible for recruiting diverse talent for their faculty. They guide in encouraging a diverse pool of applicants and selecting the person or people best suited to the culture and requirements of the institution. 

There should be a senior faculty member in every search committee — generally an associate professor or professor — with a formal designation as an equity representative, along with other trusted representatives of your institution. Often, a hiring committee has between five and seven members and votes on the final applicant selection. 

What Does a Faculty Search Committee Do?

The search committee is responsible for all phases of the hiring process, from job posting to filling the position. They must follow recruitment best practices and have recruitment training to make the most significant impact. Committee members have several duties to complete in this role, including:

Creating the Job Posting

The search committee often creates the best language for a job posting to attract the highest-quality applicants. When they have defined what they want, they select the sites and publications they want to advertise in, intending to attract diverse candidates, many from underrepresented groups. 

Occasionally, the hiring department creates the job description before they appoint the search committee, in which case the search committee is responsible for posting the opening on the most valuable sites and publications. 

Establishing Evaluation Criteria

The search committee establishes the criteria it will use to rank applicants beforehand. They use selection criteria based on departmental priorities, and these predetermined criteria ensure fairness throughout the application process. 

Reviewing Applications 

Once candidates have started applying for the position, the search committee reviews the applications. It creates a long list of applicants to request additional information from, such as sample syllabi and teaching evaluations. They will contact unsuitable applicants in this phase to inform them that their applications were unsuccessful. 

Selecting Finalists

The search committee discusses and rates the applicants based on the predetermined evaluation criteria. They may also conduct interviews to narrow the applicants and create a short list of finalists. 

Interviewing Finalists on Campus

The finalists undergo on-campus interviews. These often include a tour of the campus and a teaching demonstration for the students. During the visit to campus, the search committee will have set up several meetings with administrators and department members, including an opportunity for candidates to present their research. 

Interviewing Finalists on Campus

Selecting the Successful Candidate

After the on-campus visit, the search committee will reconvene, having gathered all the relevant information from administrators and department members who met with the candidates. They'll consider all the information, weigh it against the evaluation criteria, and vote for the successful candidate. They also document the final selection and the basis for this decision. 

How Is a Faculty Search Committee Created?

Often, the dean of the hiring department will approve the search, and the search committee is formed after that. The dean will select the search chair, who proceeds to select the remaining committee members. Some guidelines faculties try to abide by when creating a search committee include: 

  • Recruiting committee members from underrepresented groups
  • Attracting candidates to form a diverse applicant pool
  • Ensuring a fair and equitable evaluation process

What Do Faculty Search Committees Look for in Potential Candidates?

The primary role of a faculty search committee is to seek quality candidates from a diverse pool of applicants. They must follow strict processes to ensure impartiality and define the selection criteria before beginning the search. Some of the essential attributes that search committees look for include the following:

Fit for the Position

First and foremost, the committee wants to establish which candidates best fit the position. They want to focus on competent candidates who meet the department's needs. Candidates can be helpful to the department in more ways than meeting teaching needs. They can also take on student advising responsibilities and actively participate in university service. 

Adept at Building Rapport

Search committees are interested in the ability of candidates to form rapport with students and other faculty members. Candidates must cope with the required work and fit within the department. Candidates involved in service activities are often an excellent fit, as they are interested in campus events and tend to share the department workload equally. 

Have Tenure Potential

Candidates applying for full-time academic work pique the search committee's interest if they are also good tenure candidates. They could have publishable dissertations and straightforward post-dissertation projects. The committee will look into the future and establish whether you could achieve tenure in six or seven years. 

Questions to Ask the Faculty Search Committee

If you are applying for a faculty position at an institution of higher learning, you want to make the best impression possible. Your unique priorities and values shape the questions you ask, but some general questions you can ask the search committee in your meetings are:

  • What does the workload for this position consist of regarding courses and advisees?
  • What is your timetable for making a decision?
  • Who occupied this position before? Why did they leave?
  • What did the previous person in this position do well, and what do you wish they had done differently?
  • How did this position open up?

Ensure Faculty Success With Watermark

Ensure Faculty Success With Watermark

Since 2018, Watermark has provided data collection, measurement, and analysis software for higher education institutions. Our software solutions tackle challenges in higher education, such as diversity and streamlining processes. We can deliver meaningful and actionable data to support your students, faculty, and institution. 

With Watermark Faculty Success, you can showcase faculty accomplishments and support their career growth with customizable reports. We can enable you to gather data from multiple sources and translate it into proactive steps that guide your faculty to success. Request a Watermark Faculty Success demo and see how we can deliver the support your faculty deserves today. 

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