This is the time in the year when deans present proposals to the university for additional members of the faculty. In most cases, the proposals originate through faculty initiatives. They are vetted within departments/units and forwarded to the school dean. The deans then review the proposals and attempt to fit them into the budgetary constraints of the school. Then they move to the provost’s office.
My starting opinion on these matters is rather simple – all of the units of the university could be strengthened by a larger number of faculty. In almost every unit, there are subfields for which we do not yet have a faculty expert on board. In contrast, there are no effective arguments that a new faculty member in a unit will harm the university. But all universities operate under finance and space constraints.
Hence, the decisions regarding searching for a new faculty member are ones that require trading off one good for another. We’ve attempted in the provost’s office to become more transparent about these tradeoff decisions. We have little expectation that negative decisions regarding search requests will be well-received by the proposer, but we believe that we all have the right to know the ingredients of the decision. Hence, we distribute each year a list of all proposals forwarded for search requests, with explicit rationale for the decision.
It’s worthwhile, I suspect, to review what criteria are used in the provost’s office for such decisions.
First, we seek to review the role that the new hire will play in the intellectual portfolio of the department/unit. How does the expertise being sought add to the coverage of subfields in the unit? Is the missing subfield one of growing importance in the discipline? How
will the research profile of the unit be enhanced through the proposed hire?
Second, we ask the question of whether the demand for students for the field is growing, staying the same, or declining? Are there large waitlists for courses offered by the unit? Are there growing numbers of undergraduate majors? Is the unit experiencing graduate student enrollment pressures? Are the current faculty in the unit teaching larger numbers of students than comparable departments?
Third, we link the proposal to other strategic efforts in the university. Does the proposal address one of the areas related to university initiatives? Does the proposal contribute to the interdisciplinary strength of Georgetown? Is the proposal compatible with a joint appointment between two units?
Fourth, do our revenue expectations two years from now give us assurance that we can afford a new hire? For example, searches approved for academic year 2018-2019, will generally yield a new faculty member no earlier than fall semester 2019. Hence, a decision this year to search has implications not on next year’s budget but the year-after’s budget.
Fifth, has a faculty member left the unit? When a tenure-line assistant professor leaves a unit, other things being equal, we seek to replace them with another tenure-line assistant professor. In contrast, when a tenured member leaves the university, we attempt to make wise allocations to those units that most need the position.
Sixth, does the proposed rank of the search improve the mix of fulls-associates-assistants in the unit? Are the needs of the unit best served by a tenure-line appointment, a non-tenure-line appointment, or adjuncts? It is healthy to have a mix of experience within the faculty ranks. For example, in fields that are rapidly changing, it’s important to have newly-minted PhD’s to teach the latest developments in the field to our students.
Seventh, is it critical that the faculty search occur next year, or could the unit’s goals be fulfilled with a later search? We are attempting as a community to think about our work in multi-year sequences. When we can plan ahead for a search, we generally can make wiser decisions.
Decisions on faculty searches are some of the most important a university can make. None of them can be made easily because rarely do the answers to the seven types of questions above all point in the same direction. We spend hours of review and reflection on how best to move forward.
We’re in the thick of the process now. We will try our best to make wise decisions.