The problem with the faculty-hiring process at two-year colleges isn't that candidates are unprepared or don't know how to behave during a job interview. The problem is that members of search committees tend to be arrogant, cynical, bored, and distracted.
At least, that's the word from a number of readers who responded to last month's column advising candidates on what not to do in a job interview. The aforementioned readers, in turn, had a few suggestions for me, many of which are printable.
It was clear that most of my e-mail correspondents had been through numerous job searches and become frustrated by the process. A recurring theme in their remarks was, "That's easy for you to say. You have a job. Why don't you try being on the market for a while?"
For the record, I have been on the job market, more than once. I've been interviewed at least a dozen times and landed tenure-track positions at four colleges. I'm well aware that that makes me one of the lucky ones, but I've also had to jump through the same hoops as everyone else and endure the same kind of stress and anxiety.
Where I may differ from many readers is that I've also spent a considerable amount of time on the other side of the table. In my 21 years as a faculty member and administrator at community colleges, I've participated in at least 10 searches for faculty members plus countless others for administrative and staff positions.
That gives me, I believe, a rather unique perspective, one I've tried to share through my columns in The Two-Year Track series. Last month's column generated a lot of good advice from readers that is worth passing on to others who, like me, frequently serve on search committees.
Many readers, for example, pointed out that not all candidates are young people applying for their first community-college job. That's hardly a revelation to experienced search-committee members, but to the extent that we tend to lump all job seekers together, we probably need the occasional reminder.
The fact is, in almost any batch of applications, at least half of the candidates are either long-term adjuncts of the college to which they have applied or experienced faculty members from other two-year institutions. Far from being fresh-faced novices approaching the committee hat-in-hand, many applicants are established colleagues in their own right, likely to resent (and rightly so) any sign of condescension on the part of committee members.
Another point many readers made strongly (to say the least) is that committee members should treat job applicants like human beings -- not as numbers or (as a long-time adjunct once said to me) like cattle being herded past stock-buyers at auction. While such advice should be unnecessary, as a practical matter, the "cattle call" mentality can be difficult to resist when you're interviewing six people in a single day, one right after the other.
Even so, we must strive to be "humane," as one reader wrote. Candidates are people, with families, aspirations, and feelings. Sure, we have to be as objective as possible in our appraisals, but that doesn't mean we have to be cold. There's nothing to stop us from connecting and relating to job candidates on a personal level (without asking inappropriate questions, of course), regardless of whether we eventually hire them.
Several readers also said faculty members should keep in mind the reason they are serving on the search committee and the opportunity it presents. It may be, as I wrote in last month's column, that working on a search committee is basically "a tiresome, tedious, thankless job." But that's no excuse for allowing our attention to waver or letting boredom get the better of us at any stage of the process.
As academics, we've dealt with tedium all of our lives, in situations ranging from essay grading to faculty meetings to graduate seminars. We've trained ourselves, in the face of that boredom, to focus on the task at hand. Giving anything less than our full attention to a faculty search -- by force of will, if necessary -- is unprofessional and a disservice to the job applicants.
Whatever your college's stance on shared governance, you can have a tremendous impact on the long-term effectiveness of your college -- not to mention your own day-to-day job satisfaction -- by making sure you choose the best teachers and the best colleagues you can.
And finally, as one of my correspondents reminded me, all of us who serve on search committees have to be careful not to let our biases affect our decisions. I'm not referring to extreme forms of bias, like racism or sexism. No doubt those still play a role in some searches, but they probably deserve a more thorough treatment than I can give them here.
What I mean are the more subtle biases that we might not even recognize as such, involving concepts such as a candidate's teaching approach, professional or personal philosophy, and disciplinary theory. While it's perfectly appropriate to consider such intangibles when judging an applicant's candidacy, it's a mistake to let those considerations -- which may actually be little more than visceral reactions -- form the sole basis for our hiring decisions.
In other words, we owe it to our colleges and to the candidates themselves to remain open-minded when confronted by people whose teaching strategies, disciplinary approaches, backgrounds, and ideas differ from our own.
Other biases may have to do with characteristics such as age -- real or perceived -- and appearance. Deciding not to hire candidates because we think they are too "immature," based on our assumptions about their age, is just as much a form of discrimination as hiring more attractive candidates without regard for qualifications.
Search-committee members can even demonstrate bias against applicants who have been long-term adjuncts, wondering (aloud, at times) why they've never landed a full-time job. Or they can be biased in favor of certain candidates -- adjuncts with whom they have become friendly over the years, or colleagues they have met at conferences.
Perhaps I can sum up the advice my readers gave me simply by paraphrasing the golden rule: As search committee members, we should treat candidates the way we would want to be treated if we were sitting on their side of the table.
All the while, thanking our lucky stars that we're not.