I am currently serving on a search committee (which is why I haven’t been able to blog much).
One of the things that is utterly fascinating* about a search committee is how stylized everything is. We get to generate our own questions for the phone interview/campus interview, but they seem to be derived from some ur-Questions from some years back. There are very clear lines as to what is and what isn’t relevant (and this is how it should be, of course), but you still try to get a read from the candidates in the hopes that you can find the best “fit.”
“Fit,” of course, is often used to make sure the status quo is never upended, and in higher education right now a great debate is raging as to just how sustainable – or unsustainable – the status quo is. Academia treats its contingent faculty horribly, and the non-academic staff usually don’t fare much better. The security of the tenure-track position is denied to all but a few lucky ones, and even then, the tenure process** is getting harder and harder to navigate. Between publication expectation bloat and the demands of accreditation agencies, tenure may in fact be impossible for all but a rarified group. I remarked the other day that “research, teaching, and service” is now more accurately stated as “publication in a narrow range of journals, assessment, and administrative work.”
And what’s more, that’s not accidental.
I’ve made no secret of my wish to move into administration at some point, and one of the main reasons is to be there on the front lines of trying to change things. The current model of higher education is unsustainable. We need to look at the entire system. We need to get away from a model that treats human beings as cogs. We need assessment procedures that build on what faculty do, not ones that needlessly add to their labor. We need publication guidelines that reflect the new reality of the dissemination of academic inquiry. We need new models for peer review that expand the knowledge of the disciplines, instead of codifying current biases. We need administrators who understand faculty, faculty who understand students, and students who understand how much they don’t understand.
What are the solutions?
*”fascinating,” perhaps, for about twelve people
**for the record, I am not referring to my specific situation. UMM has been great thus far.