Monday, November 05, 2007

Danger Ahead

Driving that train, high on cocaine,
Casey jones is ready, watch your speed.
Trouble ahead, trouble behind,
And you know that notion just crossed my mind.

Casey Jones, Words by Robert Hunter; music by Jerry Garcia

I am sure I have worn out my blog welcome with my efforts to explain why elite hiring is inconsistent not just with Moneylaw but with basic agency responsibilities. I am equally sure that about 80% of law professors disagree. There are, in fact, other factors to indicate your hiring process has gone off the tracks. My hunch is that some of these will ring a bell.

1. How are people selected to be on your hiring committee? Are they uniformly hard workers who have high standards? Have they consistently put the School’s interests ahead of their own? Hard workers tend to be more interested in finding new hard workers. On the other hand, if there are people of the making nice variety, what makes you think they will apply high standards and do the digging to look beyond a candidate’s credentials?

2. Is your committee selling the candidates or letting them sell themselves? At some point in the appointments process there is a danger that the committee will become agents for the candidates and not for the faculty and shareholders. This is because committees want to claim success and that means hiring someone, maybe anyone. At this point a faculty has to be independent. The initial hiring decision creates a presumption in many schools of tenure and life time employment. I have yet to hear anyone on a hiring committee claim success when no one is hired. That may be, however, a huge success if it means not making a mistake.

3. What are the selling points of the committee (if it does sell the candidates)? If the main selling point is that the candidate has “many call backs,” or can only be hired if we “act fast,” be careful. Remember what your parents told you when you argued smoking pot, staying out until 2, drinking beer, or wearing your underwear on the outside was OK because everyone was doing it? The same goes for hiring someone because everyone else wants to. This selling point makes me cringe. It signals a lack of leadership and that your committee is not confident in its own evaluation. Just remember, your school’s call back is one of the ones the other schools of your ilk are using to justify their call back and on and on.

4. Has the committee checked “references” (real ones not the ones listed by the candidate) and had the scholarship read by independent experts. If the committee has become an agent for the candidates, the evaluation of the scholarship by committee members is suspect. One thing to look for is whether the scholarship was read before the hiring convention. Once any winnowing of the field begins, the shift from faculty loyalty to candidate loyalty begins.

5. Are candidates voted out of committee in a strategic order? For example, in an area in which the school is hard pressed for teachers, does the committee report one candidate only and say take it or leave it. Does the committee take pains to keep the faculty from choosing among candidates or from seeing the full picture of opportunities? Are some candidates withheld because the committee is actually concerned that the candidate will be ranked over a committee favorite?

How do I know this? Because have seen all of it and, sorry to say, done some of it.


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