Students are not the only ones who endure the rigors of examination at Hillsdale College. For over a year, the Hillsdale faculty has been consumed with the process of filling eight faculty openings for the upcoming academic year.
This year’s committee looked to fill positions in psychology, politics, English, history, finance, biology, mathematics, and theater. Seven of the spots have been filled. In one case, two professors were hired in anticipation of a retirement in the finance department next year. The one search that is still going is for an opening in the politics department. One candidate has already been interviewed and two more candidates will be coming to campus this month.
Assistant to the Provost Mark Maier said that this process is ordinarily completed by now, but this year there were some searches that stretched out.
The process is extensive, taking the entire academic year prior to the professor’s first semester teaching. According to Maier, the administration is typically notified of a retirement or a need to search sometime between this time of year and the summer — about a year in advance.
Maier said Provost David Whalen and the Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn meet every summer to review and approve departments asking to search for new faculty. Once they receive approval, the department chairs will advertise in journals and online beginning in the fall. Applications are typically open until December and they requires the usual curriculum vitae, letters of recommendation, teaching statement, transcripts, and — unique to Hillsdale — a response to the mission statement.
“That mission statement response is something we all read and take very seriously because we want our faculty to buy into what the college is trying to do,” Maier said.
Each department must take a list of candidates numbering in the hundreds and whittle it down to three or four candidates, whom the department invites to campus to interview in the spring. That’s when the hiring committee gets involved.
Whalen and Maier appoint three people to the search committee from outside the hiring departments that represent each of the three divisions: natural sciences, humanities, and social sciences.
A search committee is made up of all full-time tenured or tenure-track members of the department who complement the dean of the division that the of the hiring department: Dean of Faculty Daniel Coupland, one member of the division not in the department, and two members from the other two divisions.
“I think the fact that we require so many people outside of the department to be a part of the hiring team makes our process unique,” Maier said.
When candidates come to campus, their schedules are booked for the duration of their two day visit. On top of interviews, they are required to teach a class, give a formal research presentation, and have lunch with students selected by the department, and lastly, an informal interview dinner with the committee. The candidate’s interviews usually consist of about four 30-minute one-on-one interviews with members of the committee and about an hour-long interview with the provost and an hour-long interview with the president.
John Willson, retired Hillsdale College History Professor Emeritus, was involved in the hiring process during his 30 years as a faculty member before his retirement in 2005. Willson said that there is an extra burden for hiring at Hillsdale because they aren’t just looking for credentials.
“They look for certain commitments to both teaching and to the relationship of education to the broader culture and to the heritage and traditions of our common culture,” Willson said.
At this point in the process, committee members, like Coupland, really get involved. Coupland has been on all eight of this year’s committees and said his role on the committee is to represent the college and the college’s interests. Coupland interviews each candidate individually and attends all of the teaching presentations and any other public events. He laughed that he hasn’t been able to attend all of the informal dinners — because that would be a lot of dinners away from his family.
Coupland said during his interviews he keeps his own hiring experience in mind. He said the process is difficult due to the number of people the candidate meets with and the number of one-on-one conversations they have.
“That’s intimidating, and I keep that in mind when I interview them,” Coupland said. “I try to be sensitive to the fact that it’s a grinding two day processes.”
Coupland also tries to create small opportunities to engage in non-academic conversations that allow him to get to know the candidate.
“That said, we have two days to interact with this person so it shouldn’t just be all fluff,” Coupland said. “We want to get to the heart of the matter, and you need to be pointed in your questions at times.”
Coupland said he is primarily interested in whether the candidate understands, supports, and is willing to teach the college’s mission. He also wants to see how the candidates gel with faculty members, and if they can interact with a wide variety of people.
After all the candidates leave, the committee meets and ranks the candidates as a whole in order of preference.
“It’s amazing how consensus will typically come out of those conversations,” Coupland said.
The provost will then talk to the president on his thoughts and an offer will be made.
“When you have eight searches, that’s 30 plus candidates on campus in a small window; it gets pretty crazy,” Maier said.
Coupland said most day in the month of February consisted of one or two visits a day, but, “as long as you enjoy talking to people, it’s not going to be too bad.”
Maier insisted that the college wants candidates to fit with Hillsdale’s mission.
“The reality is that you want faculty who want to stay here for their entire career. We don’t want to turn over faculty every five years looking for new people. It’s not that they’re committed to stay here for the next 30 years of their life, but we hope that’s the case.”