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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.


4. Active Recruitment and Diversity of the Candidate Pool


In a recent article faculty search experts Bilmoria and Buch (2010) noted that the traditional faculty search process is a passive approach to recruiting—“It assumes that appropriate applicants will apply for an advertised position” (p.28). Bilimoria and Buch note that the faculty search process is usually a “time-limited” activity as well, “beginning when a position announcement is written and ending when a new faculty member is hired” (p.28).

This traditional approach to faculty recruiting is in sharp contrast to the array of practices that make up what is known as “active recruitment.” Active recruitment is the process of "generating a pool [of applicants] rather than merely tapping it" (NSF ADVANCE Michigan, 2007). More than a process, it is a whole mode of approach to faculty searches based on the long-term cultivation of relationships and connections with those who may become applicants for a position at some future point, especially those from underrepresented groups such as women and minorities. This is the norm for recruitment in the corporate world, and is now recommended by academic search experts as one of the most effective ways to increase the diversity of the applicant pool (Bilimoria and Buch, 2010; Dyer, Montelone, Rezac and King, 2006; Stewart, LaVaque-Manty and Malley, 2004; Turner, 2003; Vicker and Royer, 2006).

Active Recruitment and Diversity. Several studies have indicated that an increase in the diversity of the candidate pool leads to increased hiring rates for underrepresented groups (Bilimoria and Buch 2010; Dyer, et al. 2006). Dyer, et al., explain this phenomena in regard to women; it is likely that the same processes occur when candidate pools are more racially and ethnically diverse as well:  

As the number of women in the applicant pool increases, data suggest that women will be more fairly evaluated (Valian, 1998). Thus, by ensuring appropriate representation of women in the applicant pool, not only is there a higher probability that women applicants might be selected for interviews due to their increased numbers, but also that their credentials will be more fairly evaluated, again leading to a higher probability of selection for interview (p.2).

In a study of 319 faculty searches at two large research universities, Bilmoria and Buch (2010) noted that:

  1. A statistically significant linear relationship exists between the percent of female and [underrepresented minority] URM applicants in the candidate pool and their degree of inclusion on the short list. This finding represents the strongest evidence to support casting a broad and diverse net when conducting faculty searches and to defer moving the search process to the next stage until a greater proportion of female and URM applicants have been included.

  2. The level of representation of female and URM applicants on the short list is associated with the likelihood of hiring a female or URM candidate. Female faculty hires occurred more frequently when there were two or more females on the short list, which occurred in 55 percent of searches.

  3. The majority of Native American, black, and “race unknown” candidates were hired when there were more females on the short list. This finding illustrates that increasing gender diversity in candidate pools can have broad-ranging, beneficial effects on the hiring of other URM faculty groups at the university (p. 30).

Is Active Recruitment Legal? In a recent report, a team of expert lawyers and academic recruitment authorities (assembled by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the American Association of Universities (AAU)), note that active recruitment efforts are well within legal bounds (Burgoyne, et al. 2010). The AAAS report, Handbook on Diversity and the Law: Navigating a Complex Landscape to Foster Greater Faculty and Student Diversity in Higher Education (Burgoyne, et al. 2010), is not only an excellent resource about the laws and court decisions that relate, directly and indirectly, to diversifying the faculty, it also describes in detail best practices that fit within those legal parameters.

Active Recruitment and Compliance with the Law. A quick glance at U.Va’s “University Affirmative Action Plan” (available from the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs), shows that women and most minority groups continue to be underutilized in many of our faculty job groups. “Underutilization of minorities or women exists when there is a statistically meaningful under-representation in the relevant faculty discipline at the institution relative to the relevant labor pool from which the institution may hire or there is other evidence of underutilization” (Burgoyne, et al. 2010). Active recruitment is a good, and legally sound, practice to improve the diversity of the candidate pool.

Active Recruitment as a Signaling Mechanism. Finally, active recruitment will likely function as what Tuitt, Sagaria and Turner refer to as a signal: “Such processes not only reflect the larger institutional commitment to diversity but also serve as important signals to current and future job applicants” that the university is a place they would want to work (Tuitt, Sagaria and Turner, p.524-525).

Active Recruitment Methods and Tips. Here are some of the ways colleagues at U.Va. and other institutions have actively sought candidates and potential candidates:

  1. Sent personal notes and copies of the announcement to college presidents and academic colleagues from schools similar to U.Va., asking for their assistance in identifying prime diversity applicants
  2. Created a standing committee to identify and cultivate potential women and/or minority candidates who could then be considered for recruitment
  3. Sent institutional representatives to conferences that minority and women graduates students were likely to attend
  4. Developed brochures about the position and handed them out to possible candidates at conferences
  5. Visited other institutions with diverse student populations; gave talks which highlighted excellence of graduate students and faculty in the department, resources for research, collaboration, etc.
  6. Directly asked quality women and members of other underrepresented groups to apply for specific positions
  7. Asked recently hired women and under-represented minority professors how they were successfully recruited

More Details

Previous Relationship Leads to Better Acceptance Rates. Research at one university on why faculty candidates decline offers indicated that while 39% of those without any previous relationship to the university declined an offer, only 17% of those who had a previous relationship declined. The same study showed that for those candidates who had 0-1 visits the declination rate was 39% but for those with 2 or more visits the declination rate was only 24% (Rachac & Maruyama, p.17).

The Far Horizon. In order to be successful in the recruitment process which is becoming more and more competitive, search committees, departments, schools, and the entire university need to think and act very creatively. As noted in the recruitment handbook developed by the University of Michigan’s ADVANCE program (funded by the National Science Foundation): “Cultivating future candidates is an important activity for the search committee to undertake, and may require that the search have a longer time horizon than is typical” (p.10).

Directly Asking People to Apply. “Several of the applicants indicated that they applied for the position primarily because they had been contacted by the department head who reviewed the opportunity with them, told them that there may be a good fit, and encouraged them to apply. Directly asking people to apply may be the single most important factor in the quality and quantity of the ultimate applicant pool” (Dyer, et al. 2006, p.5). Some might say, “we shouldn't have to convince a person to be a candidate.” However, “there are many examples from other searches of “reluctant”candidates who needed to be coaxed into the pool and turned out to be stellar finalists” (WISELI, p.II-5).

Personal Referrals. One of the schools that sent out personal notes to colleagues and presidents reported the following: “One of the candidates was referred by two and another by three external colleagues. We knew immediately that they were exceptional candidates (Vicker and Royer, p.23)” The authors of The Complete Academic Search Manual comment: “It helps to indicate that their referrals will receive immediate and personal attention in the process. Blanketing mailing lists with position announcements is rarely successful, but targeted networking can often yield fruitful results” (Vicker and Royer, p.23). 

Be an Ambassador: Connect with Graduate Students. The University of Washington and many other research universities consider the development of ongoing relationships with graduate students with an eye to future faculty candidates to be an excellent mode of active recruitment (NSF ADVANCE Cornell, NSF ADVANCE University of Michigan, NSF ADVANCE University of Washington). Faculty members can be ambassadors for your department and for the University every time they attend a conference or visit another school.

Visiting Other Universities. “The university visits included a presentation about…[the university], the college, the department, and the community. It highlighted the excellence of the students in the department, research expertise of the faculty, interdisciplinary collaborative research projects, resources to support teaching, and internal funding opportunities available at the university. The presentation also featured information about university policies on family and medical leave, dual-career assistance, tenure-clock extension…and other human resource issues. Additionally, information was provided on plans for faculty hiring (rank and numbers) in the [d]epartment…over the next three years and on open positions in other…[similar] departments” (Dyer, et al. 2006, p.3).

Hand out brochures directly. “Position announcements were directly distributed to participants at an NSF sponsored workshop for women engineers interested in faculty positions” (Dyer, et al. 2006, p.3).

Be Aware of Hidden Bias. When you reach out to graduate students at conferences, however, be aware of possible subtle bias in your choice of who to meet. The head of a graduate student mentoring project described the following incident: “Two graduate students from the same program went to a conference together; one a white male, the other a black female. They put up their poster sessions side by side. A large number of people stopped by to talk with the white male; two people approached the black woman” (Dreifus, p.3). Whatever the reasons for this, try to imagine how it might feel.

“How to Avoid Having Your Active Recruitment Efforts Backfire. Women and minority faculty candidates wish to be evaluated for academic positions on the basis of their scholarly credentials. They will not appreciate subtle or overt indications that they are being valued on other characteristics, such as their gender or race. Women candidates and candidates of color already realize that their gender or race may be a factor in your considerations. It is important that contacts with women and minority candidates for faculty positions focus on their scholarship, qualifications, and potential academic role in the department” (NSF ADVANCE, University of Michigan, pp5-6)..


Bilimoria, D. and K.K. Buch. 2010. The search is on: Engendering faculty diversity through more effective search and recruitment. Change, July/August: 27-32.

Burgoyne, R., T.M. Shaw, R.C. Dawson, R. Scheinkman, A.R. Coleman, S.Y. Winnick, J. Rippner, S.R. Palmer, and J.L. Keith. 2010. Handbook on diversity and the law: Navigating a complex landscape to foster greater faculty and student diversity in higher education. Washington, DC: American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Dreifus, G. 2007. Goal No. 1: good science. Goal No. 1: Diversity: A conversation with Michael F. Summers. The New York Times. March 13, 2007. Retrieved on March 25, 2007 from

Dyer, R.A., B.A. Montelone, M.Rezac, and T.S. King. 2006. A novel approach to active recruiting of women for STEM faculty positions. Proceedings of the 2006 WEPAN Conference. [WEPAN-Women in Engineering ProActive Network].

Institute for Broadening Participation. How to make the most of conference participation. Retrieved on February 1, 2008 from 

NSF ADVANCE, Cornell University. Effective pool development Strategies. Retrieved on January 23, 2008 from

NSF ADVANCE, University of Michigan. 2007. Handbook for faculty searches and hiring, 2007-2008. University of Michigan. Retrieved on January 22, 2008 from

NSF ADVANCE, University of Washington. 2007. Faculty hiring: Diversity and excellence go hand-in-hand. Center for Institutional Change. Retrieved on January 23, 2008 from

Olson, G.A. 2007. Don’t just search, recruit. The Chronicle of Higher Education. (53), 38. Retrieved on January 23, 2008 from

Rachac, C. and G. Maruyama. 2007. Weather or not to come: Faculty reasons for accepting or declining offers from a public midwestern research university. Presentation at a conference, Keeping Our Faculties IV Symposium: Recruiting, Retaining and Advancing Faculty of Color. April 12-14, 2007. Minneapolis, MN. Retrieved on January 23, 2007 from

Selingo, J. 2005. Michigan: Who Really Won?  Colleges’ Cautious Reaction to the Supreme Court’s Affirmative-Action Decisions May Have Snatched Defeat from the Jaws of Victory. The Chronicle of Higher Education. 51(19): 21-23.

Stewart, A. J., LaVaque-Manty, D., & Malley, J. (2004). Recruiting female faculty members in science and engineering: Preliminary evaluation of one intervention model. Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering, 10(4), 361-375. [Available at U.Va.'s Science and Engineering Library: call # Q130 .J678]

Tuitt, F.F., M.A.D Sagaria and C.C.V. Turner. 2007. Signals and strategies in hiring faculty of color. Higher Education: Handbook for Theory and Research. XXII: 424-425. [Available at U.Va.'s Alderman Library: call # LB2300 .H54]

Turner, C.S.V. 2003.  Diversifying the Faculty: A Guidebook for Search Committees. Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Valian, V. 1998. Why so slow? The advancement of women. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. [Available at U.Va.'s Alderman, Clemons, Darden, and Law libraries: call # HQ1237 .V35 1998]

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

WISELI. 2005. Searching for excellence and diversity: A guide for search committee chairs. University of Wisconsin. [WISELI-Women in Science and Engineering Research Institute]


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