Beki Grinter

Snowbird: Faculty Hiring Gridlock

In academia, academic management, computer science on July 22, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Day 2 at Snowbird included attenting a panel on faculty hiring processes. The concern that triggered this panel is that there’s a gridlock associated with faculty hiring and that this is not good for departments or for the candidates themselves. The problem as explained was that faculty slots actually go unfilled, even in a tight market, because late offers mean that candidates accumulate offers (while waiting for that last late offer hopefully). When the candidate decides and other offers are turned down it’s too late in the hiring season for the Universities with unfilled slots to recruit in that year.

One presenter showed evidence that last year of the 114 slots that departments had (113 departments interviewed), only 71 were filled. There was a widespread belief, one that I concur with, that this was detrimental to the Ph.D.’s searching for appointments.

There’s a solution on the table, it turns on several parts. First, move all the deadlines earlier, submission of applications and the time of first offers to April 1. There was some discussion of which was more important, and the backend date seems to be the more important. Second, inform candidates who will not be interviewed early so that they can make alternate plans rather than waiting for things that never come. Third, to have deadlines for telling candidates who were interviewed that they will not receive an offer and also to have deadlines for how long offers are open. I should add that the solution was not proposed as “law” but perhaps more of as a set of guiding principles…

But there are logistical constraints. One challenge is that earlier application deadlines can be difficult because sometimes Deans/Departments don’t know whether they have positions. This is especially true in difficult budget times. But, during the discussion several other fascinating deadlines and complications emerged. Semesters versus quarters seem to have a significant effect of the hiring schedule. For example, May 1 first offer deadline is better for people in semesters since the faculty are around until the middle of June than it is for those on semesters whose faculty disappear by the end of May. That a difference exists makes it hard to lock down certain dates. And of course, it’s interesting how the summer arrangement (i.e., where faculty are not paid by the institution but through their own grants) also complicates the hiring process (by reducing the amount of the year in which it can be conducted).

Another piece of the solution proposed was to tell candidates earlier that they are not going to be interviewed, or for those who do interview, that they will not receive an offer. This runs up against legal concerns in some Universities, who do not permit rejection letters to go out until the slot is filled. I did not know, but I learnt that Universities in the AAU are required to make offers to tenured faculty by April 1, and some pointed out that perhaps we should take that deadline and make it a goal for all offers.

One final observation that fits into the “you can tell you’re working with Computer Scientists” category was the number of people who described this as a game theory problem, and applied such approaches to the understanding and resolution of this problem.

I attended since I was curious about what the problem was, and how one might propose a solution that needs to be coordinated across institutions, and this panel was valuable for understanding that process.

  1. an outrageous suggestion: employers should be more realistic about wasting their slots on offers to the rock stars, the ones who do the “accumulating”…?

  2. Perhaps 🙂

    There was some discussion about having common deadlines for decision-making.

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