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Provost's Search Committee Tutorial: A Primer

Please Note: This is not the tutorial but a narrative version of tutorial materials, a primer if you will. Reading through this material will NOT give the necessary certification for serving on a faculty search committee. It is designed instead to offer all who are interested a chance to become familiar with the material covered in the tutorial prior to taking the tutorial and/or a chance to review material and references for individual topics after you have taken the tutorial.

If you would like to actually take the tutorial please click here.


2. Before Writing The Position Description

Pressed for time, search committees may simply take an old job description off the shelf, dust it off and tweak it a bit, without considering the broader issues that are at stake every time a new faculty member is hired.

Yet attention to the job description can backfire if the search committee is overly concerned with trying to make sure that the job description will produce someone who “fits” the department to a tee.

In a recent article in Inside Higher Education that discussed “good fit,” Joel Trachtenberg, president emeritus and professor of public service at George Washington University, used an analogy to discuss this “good fit” concept in searches:

We have all heard about Procrustes, the mythological Greek bandit who stretched short visitors and lopped off limbs of taller guests to make them fit his bed. I imagine that Procrustes himself fit his bed perfectly. That is, he saw himself as the ideal height and of course the ideal being [italics added].

Before writing or revising a position description, the search committee should ask the following questions to help expand the description beyond the normal departmental and disciplinary issues addressed by questions such as, “what gap in the curriculum do we need to fill?” what rank will this person be?”

  • Is this a search we can broaden?
  • Will this position description bring in candidates with ability and experience with mentoring diverse peers and students?
  • Will this position description help us find diverse candidates with demonstrated ability to collaborate?
  • Will this position description open the door to candidates who are innovators?
  • How do we develop the position description that attracts candidates with a demonstrated commitment to inclusive leadership?

Faculty search committees make decisions that affect the shape of the faculty, and therefore the entire university, for years to come. The wording of the position description is one important step in this process.

“Because the committee is likely thinking of the job at hand, its members may not see the outer distance; they want to choose a [candidate] and get on to the future. They will look for characteristics which, they believe, will solve the immediate problems” (Trachtenberg, 2).

Tips from Other Institutions. Some of our peer institutions have come up with creative ways to steer clear of the Procrustes tendency. The University of Maryland has broadened some of the requirements for some positions, The University of Michigan and Case Western Reserve have both paid particular attention to the inclusion of statements that would appeal to candidates committed to diversity (e.g., “the college is especially interested in qualified candidates who can contribute, through their research, teaching and/or service, to the diversity and excellence of the academic community.”) (Vicker and Royer, 13). At the University of Massachusetts, Amherst they have found that by keeping rank open they increase the possibility of a more senior hire (Terry, Effrat and Sorcinelli).


Lange, S.E. and J.W. Yen. 2005. Toolkits for retention and recruitment: Utilization and outcomes. Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition. Retrieved on January 8, 2008 from

Moody, J. 2007. Rising above cognitive errors: Guidelines for search, tenure review, and other evaluation committees. JoAnn Moody. To order this monograph go to JoAnn Moody's Web site,

NSF ADVANCE, University of Rhode Island. 2007. Faculty recruitment handbook: A research-based guide for active diversity recruitment practices. Retrieved on November 30, 2007 from

Terry, E., A. Effrat and M.D. Sorcinelli. 2006. Faculty development and renewal to enhance diversity and inclusion. Presentation at a conference, Diversity and Learning: A Defining Moment, Association of American Colleges and Universities. October 19-21. Philadelphia, PA.

Trachtenberg, S.J. 2007. Goodbye to Procrustes and Goldilocks. Inside Higher Ed, October 18, 2007. Retrieved on October 19, 2007 from

Turner, C.S.V. 2003. Diversifying the faculty: A guidebook for search committees. Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Van der Vorm, P. 2001. The well-tempered search: Hiring faculty and administration for mission. Academe. 87(3). May-June. Retrieved on February 18, 2008 from

Vicker L.A. and H.J. Royer. 2006. The complete academic search manual: A systematic approach to successful and inclusive hiring. Sterling, VA: Stylus.



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