The ‘Secret’ Members of Search and Tenure Committees

Anyone with common sense knows that on-campus candidates need to be on their best behavior while interviewing. Doing a great teaching demonstration and being able to talk about your research are important, but good manners are expected. The same applies to the tenure process; collegiality is often considered alongside scholarship and teaching.

All too often, however, people forget about the “secret” members of some search and tenure committees—the administrative support staff—or underestimate their importance. The person who makes the travel arrangements for the interview will form an impression of the candidate. Support staffers likewise develop first impressions of new hires when helping newbies with the details of relocating. Even in the process of moving into an office and setting up IT equipment, technical and support staffers can build definite opinions of new colleagues. After a few years of service, so may the housekeeping and maintenance staffs.

I once heard a department secretary say she wished she could serve on, or at least provide input to, the various search committees she supported. “Without exception,” she said, “I can tell about potential issues with a new hire just from my dealings with a candidate in the interview process.”

I knew of a tenure-committee member years ago who would poll housekeeping staff for informal reviews of professors whose applications were forthcoming. Few things stick in the collective craw of support-staff members like a faculty member who is two-faced toward other campus employees.

The reality is that many unofficial conversations influence tenure decisions and the hiring process, even when the guidelines do not explicitly cite collegiality or community compatibility as considerations.

Do you know of any occasions where treatment of staff has affected either the hiring process or a tenure review?

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