VII.1. Search and Hiring Process
Department chairs typically inherit an existing faculty but also have opportunities to shape the direction of the department through the recruitment and hiring process. Different disciplines have varying procedures for identifying and interviewing candidates for faculty positions. Moreover, the recruitment of tenure-track faculty is not identical to the hiring process of temporary faculty, such as visiting professors or instructors. Nevertheless, NIU has a set of Guidelines in place to comply with federal guidelines and to insure a fair and just hiring process in order to fulfill its own mission. Read these carefully; they offer valuable direction beyond the scope of this Handbook. Because faculty recruitment is part of the university’s contractual obligation, the faculty search process must be carried out within sound legal parameters.
It is crucial that the department is able to offer a clear rationale to search for new faculty. The process often begins with one or more informal conversations with the dean and, if the outcome is affirmative, moves to a written justification to the dean. Because the dean must consider the college’s mission and any ongoing strategic plan when replacing tenure-track faculty, the chair will be most effective if he or she is able to connect faculty replacement requests with the best interests and best practices of both the department and the college. Once the request to hire has been approved, the department is fairly autonomous in its recruitment efforts until an acceptable candidate for the position is identified. Then the conversation begins again with the college in order to negotiate the offer and make a successful hire. Established goodwill between the college dean and the department chair can smooth this process considerably.
- Request to hire. The search for one or more hires for open regular faculty lines begins with the dean’s acknowledgement to the chair that such a search will be supported by the college. Before a department’s recruitment committee can move forward to begin a faculty search process, the faculty search must first be approved formally by the college dean, the provost, and HRS. This process involves four parts: a Position Request Form (PRF), answers to the Dean and Provost's Office Guidelines for Justification for Filling Faculty Positions, and a copy of the proposed advertisement. Working in coordination with the appropriate department committee (e.g., recruitment committee, personnel committee), the chair or the appropriate office staff completes these documents. These items are then submitted to the appropriate college dean. Once approved at the college level, the request materials go to the provost’s office for its approval and then are directed to HRS, where the ad will be edited and/or approved by the Affirmative Action and Diversity Resources staff. To speed things up, a chair can also be proactive and “chaperone” the request packet along its way. If this is the procedure of choice, always remember that other administrative offices have their own deadlines and priorities and chairs should plan ahead for getting the paperwork processed in a timely manner. In any case, the chair is not authorized to place an ad until AADR signals its approval.
- Placing the ad. NIU is committed to diversity at all levels of its employee positions. For this reason, AADR will ask about the department’s plan to “cast a wide net” with its advertising strategy. Ads in professional journals are not enough to reach all potential applicant pools. In addition, informal contacts within the discipline can be invaluable during recruitment season; however, these must be established and nurtured in advance. AADR staff can also recommend professional listservs, mailing lists, and other outlets than may extend the reach of the advertising effort.
- Receiving and reviewing applications. The department office staff is usually the person responsible for maintaining the received applications in a secure folder, processing application materials and sending the applicants a receipt acknowledgement and the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Request Form. The EEO form is an optional mechanism for applicants to identify their protected class status as defined by federal law. All applicant materials are confidential. Throughout the search process, the applicant files must be handled with the same procedures that are in place to protect other personnel documents in the department. In addition, no applications should be reviewed prior to the advertised deadline for screening applications.
- Evaluation of applications and selection of interview candidates. Once the deadline for receipt of applications has passed or the deadline for screening the applications has begun, the department begins its review and the completion of the next administrative step: Affirmative Action Recruitment Record, Part I. Be sure to include all attachments noted at the end of the form. Part I will follow the same approval trail as did the Request to Hire paperwork. No invitations for campus interviews can be made before the last step in the sequence: AADR approval. Check with AADR staff for tips on conducting interviews and what the search committee can and cannot ask a candidate during the interview process.
- Making the offer. Once the interview process has been completed and the candidates ranked, the offer is developed for the candidate of choice. This stage of the process is best served through open communication between the department chair and the college. Two major issues must be resolved before any official action may be taken: 1) the offering salary, and 2) the length of the tenure track. Offering salary guidelines are available from the dean; however, these may represent a starting point rather than the negotiated final salary. The length of the tenure track is determined by the candidate’s prior academic experience, if any. The standard tenure-track position is considered to be seven years, with the review for promotion and tenure occurring in the sixth year. When appropriate, the probationary period may be shortened to four, five, or six years, with the review period and criteria for promotion and tenure adjusted accordingly (see Bylaws, Article 5.4).
- Finalizing the hire. The department is required to complete the next administrative step: Affirmative Action Recruitment Record, Part II and a Personnel Action Form (PAF) for the selected candidate. Like the earlier paperwork, Part II and the PAF go first to the college, next to the provost, and finally to AADR. No offer can be made without AADR approval. Once AADR has approved the offer and the college has agreed on the salary and length of the tenure track, the chair may contact the candidate. This stage of the hiring process is delicate and requires both absolute confidentiality and finesse. Seldom does a candidate accept an offer without trying to negotiate some additional perks and benefits (e.g., computer, software, office space, teaching schedule, research/travel support, summer salary). The chair must maintain a balance between an attractive offer that the candidate cannot refuse and the resources that are available to the current faculty. Of course, any supplemental support or benefits that involve college monies must be approved by the dean before the chair can include these in the offer. Some chairs write a “letter of intent” to document the supplemental-support agreements. The deadline for accepting the offer is also critical to the process, and some candidates will try to maximize their options at other institutions by requesting an extended deadline from NIU. Be careful to avoid having NIU’s offer becoming a bargaining chip for the first candidate while the second candidate loses interest or accepts another offer. There are no rules for how to navigate these waters; only good intuition and practice can perfect a chair’s hiring strategy.
If the first candidate declines the offer, a second PAF is needed, following the same procedure as earlier. In the unhappy situation in which no offer is accepted, the college may request that the chair submits a “failed search” memorandum with the details of the circumstances.