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Replenishing the faculty defines a college’s future

by James Leach

As this season of finding the next generation of Colgate professors neared its conclusion, many on campus who are involved in the process agreed that — after teaching and scholarship — hiring is the faculty’s most important job.

There may be other employers who suppose that their new hires could stay on until retirement, but few enterprises are structured as colleges and universities are to create a permanent place for a select group who are subsequently charged with regenerating the institution’s character.

Dean of the Faculty Jane Pinchin has observed and participated in the steady renewal of Colgate’s faculty since 1969. "We rely on the members of departments and programs to do an extraordinary amount of work in selecting candidates and then bringing them to campus," she said. This year alone, members of the faculty reviewed the credentials of more than 1,000 candidates in the course of identifying the 12 teachers and scholars who will enter the tenure stream in the fall.

They are the other Class of 1998, and unlike the student Class of ’98 that will graduate May 17, having left their mark on the college over the course of four years, this faculty class promises to play a role in shaping the future of the place for decades to come.

 

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"The most frequent response I hear from candidates is, ‘I want to come here because this faculty is where I want to be.’" Jane Pinchin
The job of a lifetime
Political science chair Michael Hayes has just completed an 18-month-long process that resulted in hiring two new professors in his department — one to teach European politics and the other to teach American politics with a focus on race. "The department is committed to excellence and wants to hire people of quality," he said, describing the searches.

Faced with the likelihood that they will spend the rest of their professional lives with the people to whom they offer positions, faculty approach hiring with the utmost care. "Hiring is high seri-ousness," says Ellen Kraly, a geographer who chaired her department in the fall, and who heads one of the college’s four academic divisions (university studies) this spring.

Margaret Maurer, acting director of the division of humanities, has chaired the English department in the past. "We spend a lot of time on hiring," she said. "When I was department chair, to have a year when we weren’t considering a hire made a significant difference in the work load.

"The most important decisions we make are hiring decisions," Maurer continued. "If you don’t hire people that you can look at for third-year review and tenure, you set yourself up for more exhausting searches. It is a strain on a lot of people when you make a hire that doesn’t work out."

Said Richard April, a geologist who heads the division of natural sciences and mathematics, "It is a lifelong commitment that goes both ways."

All of the current division directors (including also anthropologist Gary Urton in social sciences and religion professor Christopher Vecsey in humanities, who is on leave this spring) are senior faculty with experience as chairs of their respective departments. They are hiring veterans in all cases, and an important resource for the chairs of departments in their division who are charged with the details of conducting searches. The heads of the academic divisions, along with Director of Athletics Mark Murphy, Dean Pinchin and Associate Dean of the Faculty Charles McClennen, review faculty staffing needs.

Division directors are not mere-ly advisers in the search process. From the outset they are involved in defining how a position will be filled, in resolving issues during the search, in interviewing can-didates and making clear the college’s expectations, and finally, in negotiating the terms of a new faculty member’s contract.

 

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"I always look for an innate love of teaching. Anyone who is interested in coming to Colgate should be interested in teaching and making that an important part of his or her career. I also want to be sure that candidates will be doing high quality research, and that they are willing to involve students in their research programs." Rich April
New directions?
"When someone leaves we can take one of two paths," said April. "We can replace that person with someone in the same discipline or subdiscipline. If the position is integral to the field, there’s little choice. You look for someone who can teach the same courses — perhaps with a new approach.

"On the other hand, when a vacancy occurs, a department also has the opportunity to assess its future and be imaginative about the direction in which its curriculum should go. Has the field evolved to the point where hiring someone to teach a new specialty is in the best interests of both the department and the college?"

He cites biology, where "genetics and molecular biology have just exploded in the past decade." Student demand for those sub-disciplines is high. Biochemistry, environmental biology and geology, as well, have experienced tremendous growth in student interest.

Not only in the sciences, but across the disciplines, when a faculty member retires or resigns the departure creates an obligation on the department and the college to consider new directions. The American politics position in Hayes’ department was negotiated and redefined from an earlier position that had focused on international Caribbean politics. New hires over the past decade have enabled Kraly’s department to build on a strong tradition of quantitative research and expand into environmental geography.

The first step in the hiring process, then, is to define the job and have the position approved.

 

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"If candidates can see themselves coming alive in a liberal arts environment, that’s when it works. The word ‘fit’ is wrong. You want to see someone thrive." Ellen Kraly
Casting a wide net
With a job description in hand, the next step is alerting potential candidates. In the ideal situation, for example when a retirement can be anticipated a year or two in advance, a department can have the advantage of a full year to conduct its search.

Typically, vacancies are advertised in the professional newsletter of the discipline involved, in the national weekly newspaper The Chronicle of Higher Education, on posters in graduate departments and at regional and national meetings, and, increasingly, on electronic bulletin boards avail-able on the World Wide Web. The internet has also made it easier to reach out to minority candidates as colleges seek to diversify their faculties. "Affirmative action," said Maurer, "is a determination to get out there and encourage a certain kind of candidate to apply."

Once a pool has been identified — and sometimes even before —national meetings in a discipline are ideal times to talk with potential candidates in one location. "National meetings are wonderful events because they allow us to send one, two or three faculty members who can spend 20 to 30 minutes with each of a large number of candidates," said Urton. "It is one additional step in the screening process that makes us that much smarter about the candidates when we sit down to discuss them in department meetings." Hayes and two of his colleagues interviewed candidates at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association.

Referrals from friends, which are widely used in hirings in other organizations, are viewed with less enthusiasm in academia, at least by some. "Going back to your old professors to get more candidates like yourself is not necessarily something you want to do," said Maurer. "We’re trying to make the institution a more diverse place. By advertising you get a wide and impressive pool in most fields, because there are a lot of people out there looking for work."

 

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"Going back to your old professors to get more candidates like yourself is not necessarily something you want to do. We’re trying to make the institution a more diverse place." Margaret Maurer
Qualities
Having a large applicant pool does not mean that faculty hiring is a buyer’s market, though, as April explained. While searches often yield 100 applicants or more (a recent opening in mathematics drew 300-plus resumés), "when it comes down to the final three or four, everyone else in the country is focusing on those three or four as well."

As he evaluates candidates, April said, "I always look for an innate love of teaching. Anyone who is interested in coming to Colgate should be interested in teaching and making that an important part of his or her career. I also want to be sure that candidates will be doing high quality research, and that they are willing to involve students in their research programs."

Maurer looks for evidence that "whatever a candidate is really excited about has the potential to get into a course or a class, so that the best stuff the candidate has going is something our students will have access to."

Urton looks at hiring as "one stage in the process of reproducing the institution. That doesn’t mean to remain stable," he said. "To the degree that one can, you want to bring in people who feel comfortable and compatible with the ethos and the mores of the institution, but that’s not an absolute. On the other hand, it is a small place and the more diversity we can provide ourselves, the more interesting the institution is. Colgate has a strong sense of tradition, but also, we have always prided ourselves on innovation and change and continually rethinking where we are and where we want to go.

"By bringing in people with different points of view who have the energy and foresight to be a part of the process of changing in new directions, you continue to move on. Institutions have a character that is very complex, just like the people who come to us as candidates have their complex character. In mysterious ways, successful candidates are socialized in the Colgate way of doing things, but each one also adds something to the process and they become the people who shape the place."

As director of the division that oversees the college’s core curriculum and interdisciplinary majors, Kraly assesses candidates’ interest in teaching outside their specialties. "We talk about how participation in the core or interdisciplinary programs or first-year seminars relates to faculty members’ responsibilities in their departments and to their scholarly work." Work outside their specialties could be viewed as a distraction to young faculty anticipating decisions on third-year review or tenure, and Kraly explains the college’s programs to reward that service — incentives such as stipends to support scholarly work, and meetings with colleagues to discuss teaching strategies.

"If candidates can see themselves coming alive in a liberal arts environment, that’s when it works," she said. "The word ‘fit’ is wrong. You want to see someone thrive."

Added Maurer: "We all hire specific to programs, but we also hire for the institution. The way the curriculum will evolve over the next decade is to hire people whose interests, no matter how specialized, take their place in a broader intellectual environment. They need to be concerned about broader issues. We can’t afford people who see the world very narrowly. That sounds like I’m saying we need to hire generalists, and I don’t think that at all. I mean we want faculty who see and are stimulated by questions about the larger context of what they are doing."

April views the opportunity to work outside one’s discipline or specialty as an added attraction, "something Colgate can offer that other institutions can’t."

Candidates who visit Colgate incorporate professional presentations in their stays — frequently by teaching a class or giving a talk about their scholarship. Kraly asks about those presentations in her interviews. "If their eyes light up you can guess you’ve got a winner."

 

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"Colgate has a strong sense of tradition, but also we have always prided ourselves on innovation and change and continually rethinking where we are and where we want to go. By bringing in people with different points of view who have the energy and foresight to be a part of the process of changing in new directions, you continue to move on." Gary Urton
Attractions and challenges
Dean Pinchin, who is ultimately responsible for faculty hires, knows well that being a liberal arts college four hours from New York and five hours from Boston is an attraction to some and a liability to others. She is also savvy about the attractions over which she has some control — salary, start-up funds for scholarly research, sup-port for travel, library resources. And she may be the college’s greatest advocate.

"The most frequent response I hear from candidates is, ‘I want to come here because this faculty is where I want to be,’" said Pinchin, explaining that the faculty itself is the college’s strongest asset in attracting new talent.

"We sell ourselves," said April, who has seen faculty recruitment change dramatically over the 20 years since he was hired to teach geology. "I got a letter then that said ‘Glad you can come, here’s your salary, here’s some moving money, see you at the end of August.’ When I walked in the door they showed me a lab. In the back of the lab was an old pizza oven and they said, ‘There’s your equipment, you can spend some time finding outside grant money to build your lab.’

"That was then," April continued. "Today it may take two to three weeks to negotiate a contract, dealing with such things as start-up funds and teaching loads. Sometimes we can strike a deal so we can move a candidate’s grant money here from another institution — it’s so complex. It’s not just moving a person anymore, it’s moving a person and a lifestyle." April counseled that one of the important virtues to bring to the process is patience.

"Colgate offers a tremendous level of support to faculty in all areas from teaching to research to simply finding a place to live in the first semester you move here," said Urton. "Candidates who have interviewed at other places continually remark that Colgate has an extraordinarily high level of support for research and teaching. I’ve always felt comfortable ensuring candidates that if they have exceptional needs, Colgate is good at meeting those needs."

The future of the institution
For April, who has been division director for a year and a half, the job is "a lot more work than I anticipated — a lot more responsibility." Jane Pinchin is an inspiration, he says, and adds, "I must say I’ve enjoyed it because I feel I can contribute to the future direction of the college." The hiring process is key to that future, he said.

For Ellen Kraly, "the process of interviewing candidates is renewing. It reminds me of the good things about Colgate. You can see the future of the institution."