Faculty hiring: 4 trends to follow

From cluster hiring to nontenure-track positions, here's what colleges and universities are focusing on when bringing in new faculty for 2019.

The seemingly routine process of hiring faculty also presents campus leaders with ample opportunities for innovation. As higher ed institutions strive to take full advantage of the talents brought by incoming faculty, some variations to long-standing practices are taking root. Here are four emerging and continuing hiring trends worth following throughout 2019.

1. Cluster hiring

Instead of regarding each professor as a specialist in a discipline, cluster hiring supports the sharing of interdisciplinary research interests across departments. This practice has been in play on a limited basis for a couple of decades. It now appears to be on the upswing across all institution types, says Andrew Rosen, CEO of Interfolio, a Washington, D.C., an academic management software provider that has about 300 institutional partners. “We expect this practice to continue to grow in the year ahead.”

That’s the case at Georgia State University. Following up on a successful cluster hiring initiative undertaken seven years ago, academic leaders launched a Next Generation cluster hiring program for 2017-18.

Administrators hire groups of junior scholars into research areas of greatest interest to the university, says Kavita Pandit, associate provost for faculty affairs. “The senior scholars brought in during the earlier program, as well as other research-active faculty, are now being complemented by a new generation of rising research stars who will propel the university into a new growth phase of research excellence.”

Faculty hired under the new program teach and conduct research in areas such as health law, biomedical sciences and astroinformatics.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison, an early adopter of cluster hiring, reinvigorated the practice with new hiring rounds beginning in fall 2017, says Michael Bernard-Donals, vice provost for faculty and staff.

The program provides central funding to hire faculty in key areas of cutting-edge research. One adopted cluster topic is “Rethinking East Asia and the World: Politics, Education and Society.”

Cluster hiring has generated innovative research and led to collaborations across departments that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise, Bernard-Donals says. “We are a stronger and more innovative institution because of the cluster program.”

Smaller schools also find value in the cross-departmental approach.

“We’re seeing more blurring of the boundaries between divisions or departments that in the past, may have been more insular,” says Karen A. Campbell, acting provost and vice president of academic affairs at Albright College in Pennsylvania.

She reports increased interest at her campus in hiring for interdisciplinary areas such as environmental science, Latin American studies and gender studies. “It’s much more common for faculty to work together across the specific disciplinary boundaries, to cooperate in searching for and hiring faculty who can teach more broadly.”

2. Heightened focus on faculty diversity

The Target of Opportunity Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, launched in fall 2018, supports minority faculty-member recruitment by providing central funding for hiring, outreach and faculty support.

Adelphi University administrators recently developed new practices for attracting, recruiting and hiring underrepresented-minority professors at the New York institution. Hiring committees now develop a recruitment plan that lays out a diversity strategy. Such a strategy can include, for example, traveling to conferences to attract applicants.

Search committee members have also taken the Harvard Implicit Association Test, which reveals hidden biases that may affect decision-making, says Perry Greene, vice president for diversity and inclusion.

Test results (not reported to the university) helped faculty recognize their blind spots.

University of California campuses are expanding the use of open searches to promote diversity, says Phil Kass, vice provost for academic affairs at UC Davis. With the requirement for a disciplinary specialty waived, this approach generates a larger applicant pool. The larger pools tend to include candidates who might not be considered under the traditional approach.

The usual qualification requirements still apply. “We never lower our standards,” he says.



Tips for building a more diverse faculty

Advice from Perry Greene, vice president for diversity and inclusion at Adelphi University in New York:

– Foster a culture of diversity and inclusion across all levels of the institution. This should be intentional and could include meaningful professional development, affinity spaces for marginalized groups, strong mentoring, and research support for diverse faculty. New faculty should be made aware of this climate and will want to be a part of it.

– Promote active searches. Committees should have the resources to reach out to minority caucuses in particular disciplines and professional associations, and to historically black colleges and universities. In addition, committee members should tap into their professional networks and invite diverse candidates to apply.

– Build in accountability. Before campus visits, review candidate pool demographics to ensure that the process has been fair and equitable, and that committees have made all reasonable efforts to attract diverse candidates.


3. Video interviews

Face-to-face interviews may remain the norm for most colleges, but video interviews are becoming more common.

Search teams at Richland College in Dallas routinely employ video interviews to narrow down faculty candidates, says Susan Barkley, executive dean of world languages, cultures and communications.

Applicants answer questions such as: “How do you demonstrate that you value and honor diversity?” and “What innovative strategies do you utilize in technology-infused learning?”

For a single faculty position in English, the college often has as many as 100 applicants, and the video process constitutes an important first step in determining a candidate’s professionalism and engagement.

Albright’s Campbell says teleconferences have helped identify candidates with engaging communication styles who might have been considered on the fence based upon just the application materials, she says.

Video interviews may eliminate the need to interview job candidates at professional conferences. The executive leadership of the Modern Language Association—whose conferences have faced criticism for the hardships placed on potential faculty members who must travel, at their own expense, to seek positions at member institutions—have suggested them as another option.

4. Tenure alternatives for faculty

The disparities in compensation between adjuncts and full-timers have prompted much debate, not to mention media coverage. While institutions have taken steps to improve pay for part-timers and integrate them more fully into the campus community, heavy reliance on adjuncts is expected to continue regardless of such initiatives. At the same time, hiring that goes beyond part-time contracts but falls short of traditional practices seems to be on the upswing.

“The major trend we see in faculty hiring nationwide is the tremendous growth in full-time, nontenure-track positions,” says Georgia State’s Pandit. Typically, faculty in these positions focus on a single function, such as teaching, research or service, but not on the full combination of duties expected for those on a tenure track. These positions have often been considered “second choice.” Universities are now, however, recognizing the important role these faculty play and are creating promotion paths for them, she says.

“As a result, there is increasing evidence of faculty in these positions having highly successful career trajectories,” Pandit says. “In the coming years, we anticipate great competition for faculty in nontenure-track positions as a result.”

Mark Rowh is a Virginia-based writer who frequently covers human resources-related topics for UB.



Big-picture changes from faculty hiring trends

Hiring trend: Cluster and cohort model hiring
Broader change: Campus leaders must examine organizational structures to ensure that there are no barriers to collaboration, says Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Hiring trend: Continued focus on diversity
Broader change: “As research on the subject of diversity in higher education suggests, more diverse faculty will mean better student outcomes, particularly from marginalized students who are represented by those same diverse faculty,” says Perry Greene, vice president for diversity and inclusion at Adelphi University in New York. In addition, providing different perspectives across a wider array of subjects will mean more collaboration on research and a more diverse curriculum.

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