‘The Fit’s Not Right’

If you’ve been reading ProfHacker for any length of time, you know our policy of not telling anyone else what to do or what to think.  We write posts about what has or hasn’t worked for us, what we’ve tried, or what we’d like to try.  We then ask you, dear readers, for your perspective on these topics.  In other words, we ask you: “What has worked for you.”  We believe in crowdsourcing.  This post follows that policy in that it doesn’t offer a direct perspective.  Instead, it asks questions about a sensitive topic in higher education, and we’d like you to provide the answers.

For those of us in higher education, questions of “fit” arise on a routine basis, and as we move into a new academic term in a few weeks, raising questions about fit now seems appropriate.  We can ask questions such as, “Does the new hire fit the department?”  “Is she a fit?”  “The fit’s not right with him.”  “It’s a good fit!”  Questions such as these make it sound like we’re trying on a new pair of jeans. But we ask the questions nonetheless.  This term, though, is difficult to define, especially for new-minted PhDs beginning their first academic appointments.  Even for seasoned academic professionals, the understanding of this term can be unclear.  The understanding of “fit” seems to be one of those, “I’ll know it when I see it” sort of definitions.

We might have a few scenarios:  A new hire doesn’t understand the culture of an institution and can’t seem to find a way or a place to fit.  A department isn’t willing to adjust its fit to include new perspectives or ideas.  Departmental (college, university) needs change and that changes “fit” within the group.  Even though we are not supposed to consider difference markers such as race, gender, class, religion, sexual orientation, or physical ability differences, these can factor into questions of fit.

So, we have questions, and we’d like you to provide some answers (or at least your perspectives).  Your answers may have geographical, contextual, institutional constraints.  If so, please provide a short context for your answers.  Lastly, please keep in mind ProfHacker’s readership.  We have readers that range from advanced undergraduates to the most seasoned academic professional.  So, what you might consider common knowledge might not be so common for some readers.  Please answer thoughtfully.

The questions:

  • What does it mean to “fit” in your department (group, school, college, or university)?
  • Who is responsible for defining “fit” in your department (group, school, college, or university)?
  • In your department, who holds responsibility for ensuring a good fit?  (a new hire, for example, a search committee, the department chair)?
  • What should a new hire know about fit before joining a department?
  • What should a department know about fit before hiring a new employee?
  • What should a new hire or a department continue to understand about fit?
  • If problems of fit arise, what should a new hire do?
  • What should the department do if problems of fit arise?
  • Other questions or concerns?
  • Other advice?


Please leave your comments below.

[Image by Flickr user Wes Peck and used under the Creative Commons license.]

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