Getting the Most from the Search Committee Process
Appendix to Policy
Should We Use a Search Committee?
A search committee is a group of individuals formed for purposes of assisting the responsible administrator in recruiting and screening candidates for a posted academic position.
The search committee adds value as a practical way to harness the large amount of work of reviewing applicants and to manage the University's data privacy obligations. It provides for consistency in reviewing each candidate, and benefits from multiple perspectives. Responsible administrators may exercise flexibility related to the use of search committees. Consider the following issues when developing staffing strategies and considering the role of the search committee:
Unless compelling reasons exist to do otherwise, the use of a search committee is required when filling tenured and tenure-track faculty, continuous and probationary professional academic staff and senior level administrative appointments. The use of search committees for these types of appointments is consistent with that of other higher education institutions and is strongly endorsed by the University community.
The scope and impact of the position should be considered when deciding whether or not to use a search committee. Will professional contacts for this position within and/or outside of the University be broad or limited? To what extent will the individual rely on members of the unit and/or the larger University community to successfully perform the duties of this position?
Would the advice of a search committee during the hiring process be more likely to ensure support for the person hired by colleagues and/or customer/client communities?
Is there another existing body for advice on hiring rather than a search committee, such as a standing committee or an advisory group?
An effective search committee strategy will do much to facilitate, rather than undermine, an effective search. Keep in mind that the goal when using a search committee is to optimize the effectiveness of the search process from the perspective of all parties concerned-the hiring authority, members of the search committee, colleagues, and in particular, the applicants. Since the search process sets the stage for the future employment relationship, careful attention should be paid in effectively managing this very important phase of the staffing process.
Selecting a Search Committee
- Think carefully about the membership composition of your committee, keeping in mind that a large committee might impact how quickly the search process may be completed.
- Select committee members who have valued knowledge about the position to be filled.
- Including women, minorities and individuals with disabilities in search committees will provide a valuable dimension to committee discussions.
- If the duties of the position cross disciplines, specialties, or administrative units, consider representation on the committee from beyond your unit.
- Include individual(s) with a record of participating in searches with positive outcomes.
- Student representation on search committees is strongly encouraged.
- For Senior Administrator Searches, refer to the procedure, Involving the Senate Committee in Senior Administrator Searches.
Note: Take care not to overburden the same employees with too many requests to serve on search committees.
Selecting a Well-Qualified Chair
An ideal chair is someone who is:
- A highly regarded faculty member, professional or administrator;
- A person who has the respect of diverse constituencies;
- A person who has experience in searches successful in recruiting people of color and women;
- A person who is skilled at conducting meetings; and
- A person knowledgeable about affirmative action, as broadly defined.
Search Committee Alternatives
In recent years there has been an increased use of 'mega searches' for faculty hiring, where one committee is filling multiple positions reflecting multiple sub-disciplines, or cross-disciplinary searches, where candidates could come from a variety of disciplines. These search models are beneficial, but make it difficult to select committee membership that incorporates all of the expertise needed to evaluate applicants. In addition, some departments have stated they want their entire faculty reviewing all of the candidates, not just the reasonably sized group of viable candidates designated as "finalists."
The dean of each college may determine if and how to permit expanded participation in the search committee process. Any additional people consulted must have a "reason to know" about the applicants, most likely because of their expertise in the discipline at issue. If additional faculty members review candidates before finalists are formally designated, two principles must be satisfied:
- Additional reviewers must be informed of, and expected to comply with, data practices laws that protect the identity of and information about applicants; and The process must still assure that all candidates are provided equal opportunity in consideration,
- and that candidates who are reviewed outside of the core search committee are not selected on any impermissible basis.
These criteria can be satisfied by the additional reviewer reading the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action's "Affirmative Action in the Search Committee Process".
Possible models for expanded participation are:
- Select a larger search committee to incorporate all likely disciplines.
- Ask one or more faculty (two or more are preferred, to mirror the values of a search committee) to review all of the candidates in the unexpected discipline remaining in the pool at that point. Ideally these additional reviewers would be identified in advance (e.g., if we get candidates in X discipline, we'll ask professors Y and Z) to avoid the risk of inadvertently selecting reviewers based on a connection that might infer bias.
- Appoint a core search committee to do the initial review of all applicants and coordinate the process, and an appropriate number of 'subcommittee' members to review all applicants in each (sub)discipline.
- Appoint a search committee to select semi-finalists, and use the entire faculty of a department to select the finalists.
- If a department wants to designate a search committee of the whole, all faculty need to participate fully in the review of all candidates.
Relationship Between the Responsible Administrator and the Search Committee
The responsible administrator selects individuals to serve on search committees. These committees are created to provide a broad perspective and insight in an advisory capacity to the responsible administrator. Because of this role, responsible administrators do not participate in the activities and deliberations of the committee in order to allow for advice independent of influence or control. The search chair is expected to keep the responsible administrator apprised of search status at all points. The responsible administrator retains responsibility to make the final hiring decision. The responsible administrator has access to all applicant files and may choose to select additional applicants from the pool for further consideration. The responsible administrator may nominate individuals as candidates.
Who Can Know Information About Applicants?
Minnesota state law (the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act) prohibits sharing information about applicants except with people within the institution who have a job-related "reason to know." People with a "reason to know" include the search committee, department head/chair or director, academic dean, vice president, unit EOAA liaison, unit HR staff, and staff support for the search.
The search committee has access to all applicant materials (except self-identification of race, gender, disability and veteran status submitted for affirmative action requirements), and has an obligation to assure appropriate consideration of all qualified candidates. The college or administrative unit is responsible for deciding whether it is appropriate to expand access of applicant materials to other faculty or staff. Access should be given only to those persons who can provide substantive input to the review, and who are informed of the same privacy and equal opportunity responsibilities, as is the search committee. (Refer these additional reviewers to the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action's "Affirmative Action in the Search Committee Process".)
If the responsible administrator elects to use another existing body for advice on hiring, and a determination is made to allow such individuals access to candidate files, the participants must be informed of privacy and equal opportunity obligations. (Refer these additional reviewers to the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action's "Affirmative Action in the Search Committee Process.")
Affirmative Action Obligations in a Search
The University is required under federal law, specifically Executive Order 11246, to establish hiring goals for women and racial minorities when their representation in the University work force is less than their representation in the local or national labor pool. Affirmative action for women and racial minorities includes setting annual numerical hiring goals based on many factors. In setting the goals, the University conducts a utilization analysis to determine its current employment of women and minorities and an availability analysis to determine the number of qualified women and racial minorities available to meet the hiring goals. Staff members in the EOAA office gather, maintain, and update the data and information necessary to develop the affirmative action plan for the University. The information includes market studies; local, regional and national labor market statistics; national statistics on graduates of bachelor's, master's and doctoral programs; and data generated within the University itself. Work force and goal reports for the University and for each area are found in EOAA Reports at http://www.umreports.umn.edu.
Affirmative action does not mean that individuals who do not meet the essential qualifications must be interviewed or hired. However, it may require additional efforts in the areas of:
- Screening position descriptions and entry requirements;
- Comprehensive and inclusive recruiting;
- Gender neutral and culturally bias-free selection criteria; and
- Reviewing applicants who rank near, but below the level needed to move them to the next step in the evaluation and selection process, to determine if they might not warrant further consideration.
In hiring "the best" candidate, screening beyond essential qualifications becomes increasingly qualitative and difficult. The search committee must define its standard for each screening and must document consistent application of it in the evaluation of candidates and credentials.
Affirmative Action Accomplishments Record
For all appointments in the administrative (93XX and 9631-40) title series, the search committee must provide the equal opportunity and affirmative action accomplishments of the candidates. This information is usually obtained through questioning during interviews as well as assessing application materials, but may be obtained through a written request. Depending on the particular position, the selection criteria could include the "EO Accomplishments."
A good affirmative action accomplishments statement will be about actual deeds undertaken, rather than only a philosophy of commitment.
Here are some examples:
The candidate actively recruited women and minorities for all open positions in his department. Five of six of their present interns are female and one is Hispanic. Seven of 14 of their present residents are female. Females were hired to fill two newly created positions. In addition, he was instrumental in recruiting and hiring the first black faculty member in the department. Last year he created a minority internship position and recently hired a Hispanic to fill the position.
The candidate has mentored female faculty members, supported promotion and tenure of female faculty members and served as an advisor to four female graduate students. Most importantly, she has made recruitment of women and minorities a significant departmental priority and has consistently and vocally worked to achieve this goal.
The candidate has worked as a contact person with minority and women's organizations, including Minnesota Women in Higher Education, CHART, American Indian Communications Center, and Twin Cities Black Journalists Association. In addition, she has shown strong support of women and minority students through involvement with the American Indian Journalism Students Association, by assisting black and native American students applying for internships and job opportunities, as a speaker at events for minority students, and as a working member of the University's Commission on Women.
In all conversations I have had with the candidate that pertained to minority hiring, I have never detected the slightest hint of prejudice or any other feelings that might conflict with the affirmative action policy at the University of Minnesota.
His use of language was appropriate and respectful toward women. He did not make any sexist comments.
Record Keeping During a Search
The University is required by state and federal law to maintain and report summary information (only totals and various groups-no names are reported) about applicants and hires by race, sex, disability status, and Vietnam era veteran status. Specific information may be requested pursuant to individual complaints or compliance reviews.
The chair of the search committee, when one is used, is responsible for ensuring that complete records are kept during the search. The administrator responsible for making the final hiring decision is to ensure that complete records are kept when no search committee is used. Storage of the recruiting and appointing file is the responsibility of this administrator.
Search files must be kept for seven years. Questions about contents and disposition of the files after seven years should be referred to the University Records Management Office or the Office of the General Counsel. Files on searches that are in litigation must not be disposed of until completion of litigation.
Search Committee Files:
At minimum, search committee files should include the following:
- Requisition from the University of Minnesota Employment System to include full search plan information;
- Copies of announcements, advertising and other solicitations for applications and nominations;
- Applicant and nominee correspondence, evaluations, references, reference checks, and a record of verbal contacts with or about applicants or nominees;
- Records of all committee meetings, to include selection criteria, decision making, voting, etc.;
- Evaluations of candidates at each step, evaluations of candidates who are interviewed, reasons why candidates were not referred for selection, and the faculty vote on tenure decisions, where required;
What's Public - What's Not?
- Position Description and ad copy;
- Names of search committee members;
- Search plan information (except for sex and race of search committee members);
- Essential and Preferred Qualifications;
- Information about process followed by search committee;
- Names of finalists selected by responsible administrator and from whom permission has been granted by the candidate to be considered a finalist;
- Veteran status, job history, education and training background work availability of finalists; and
- Selection outcome information, except race and gender of person receiving job offer.
- Names of applicants and nominees (unless they have been selected by the responsible administrator as finalists);
- Information in search committee files about applicants; and
- Information about finalists except items listed above as public.
Requests for information and questions about the search should be referred to the search chair, if a search committee is being used. Otherwise, such requests should be directed to the responsible administrator. Requests for information and questions about finalists should be referred to the responsible administrator as well. (Search chairs and responsible administrators should contact the University Records Management Office or the Office of the General Counsel if they have any questions about the public versus private status of information requested.)
Applicants have the right to inspect their own file, including evaluations of the application, letters of reference (and reference checks), and reasons for non-selection. Applicants do not have the right to information about other applicants.