Getting the Most from the Search Committee Process

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Should We Use a Search Committee?

A search committee is a group of people formed to help the responsible administrator recruit and screen candidates for a posted academic position. A search committee is a practical way to harness the large amount of work of reviewing applicants and to manage the University's data privacy obligations. It provides consistency in reviewing candidates and offers the benefit of multiple perspectives. Responsible administrators can be flexible in using search committees. Consider these issues when considering the role of a search committee:

  1. Unless compelling reasons exist to do otherwise, a search committee is required when filling tenured and tenure-track faculty, continuous and probationary professional academic staff, and senior administrative appointments. Using search committees for these types of appointments is consistent with other higher education institutions and is strongly endorsed by the University.
  2. Consider the scope and impact of the position when deciding whether or not to use a search committee. Will professional contacts for this position be broad or limited? To what extent will the person rely on members of the unit or the larger University community to perform their duties? Would the advice of a search committee be more likely to ensure support for the person hired by colleagues, customers, and clients?
  3. Is there another existing body for advice on hiring rather than a search committee, such as a standing committee or an advisory group?
  4. The goal of a search committee is make the search process more effective for everyone—the hiring authority, colleagues, and in particular the applicants. The search process sets the stage for the future employment relationship, so pay careful attention to managing this process.

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Selecting a Search Committee

  • Think carefully about the 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 people 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 people with experience in successful searches.
  • 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 that have recruited people of color and women
  • A person who is skilled at conducting meetings
  • A person knowledgeable about affirmative action, broadly defined

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Search Committee Alternatives

In recent years there has been an increased use of "mega searches" for faculty hiring, in which one committee is filling multiple positions reflecting multiple subdisciplines, or cross-disciplinary searches in which candidates could come from a variety of disciplines. These search models are beneficial but make it hard to select committee members with all the expertise needed to evaluate applicants. In addition, some departments have said they want their entire faculty reviewing all the candidates, not just the 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, usually because of their expertise in the discipline. If more faculty members review candidates before finalists are designated, two principles must be satisfied:

  1. Additional reviewers must be informed of, and expected to comply with, data practices laws that protect the identity of and information about applicants
  2. The process must still assure that all candidates are provided equal opportunity in consideration and that candidates who are reviewed outside 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:

  1. Select a larger search committee to incorporate all likely disciplines.
  2. Ask one or more faculty (two or more are preferred, to mirror the values of a search committee) to review all the candidates in the unexpected discipline remaining in the pool at that point. Ideally these additional reviewers would be identified in advance (for example, 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.
  3. 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 subdiscipline.
  4. Appoint a search committee to select semifinalists, and use the entire faculty of a department to select the finalists.
  5. If a department wants to designate a search committee of the whole, all faculty need to participate fully in the review of all candidates.

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Relationship Between the Responsible Administrator and the Search Committee

The responsible administrator selects people to serve on search committees. These committees are created to provide a broad perspective and insight 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 continually informed of the search status. 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.

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Who Can Know Information About Applicants?

Minnesota state law (the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act) prohibits sharing information about applicants except with people in 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 who can provide substantive input to the review and who are informed of the same privacy and equal opportunity responsibilities as 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 the members 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.")

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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 workforce 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 and update the information for developing the University's affirmative action plan. 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 from within the University itself. Workforce 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 people 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
  • 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 that it is applying the standard consistently in evaluating candidates.

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 it 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, rather than only a philosophy of commitment.

Here are some examples:

Good Statements

  • The candidate recruited women and minorities for all open positions.
  • 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.
  • The candidate was instrumental in hiring the first black faculty member in the department.
  • Last year the candidate 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.
  • The candidate has made recruiting women and minorities a significant departmental priority and has consistently and vocally worked to achieve that 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.
  • The candidate 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.

Vague Statements

  • 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.
  • The candidate's use of language was appropriate and respectful toward women. The candidate did not make any sexist comments.

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Record Keeping During a Search

The University is required by state and federal law to report summary information (only totals and various groups, not names) about applicants and hires by race, sex, disability status, and Vietnam-era veteran status. Specific information may be requested regarding 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. When no search committee is used, the administrator responsible for making the final hiring decision is to ensure that complete records are kept. This administrator is responsible for storing the recruiting and appointing file.

Search files must be kept for seven years. After than, refer questions about contents and disposition of the files to the University Records Management Office or the Office of the General Counsel. Do not dispose of files on searches that are in litigation until litigation is complete.

Search Committee Files

At minimum, search committee files should include:

  • 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, including 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

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What's Public, What's Not?

Public Information

  • 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 the process followed by the search committee
  • Names of finalists selected by the responsible administrator, when the candidate has granted permission to be considered a finalist
  • Veteran status, job history, education and training background, work availability of finalists
  • Selection outcome information, except race and gender of person receiving job offer

Private Information

  • Names of applicants and nominees (unless they have been selected by the responsible administrator as finalists)
  • Information in search committee files about applicants
  • Information about finalists, except items listed above as public

Refer any requests for information or questions about the search to the search chair, if a search committee is being used. Otherwise, direct requests to the responsible administrator. Refer requests for information or questions about finalists 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 not being selected. Applicants do not have the right to information about other applicants.

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