Talent management, part 1

Written by: Donald Heller

Primary Source: The Dean’s Blog


Today is March 3rd, which means I missed my goal of having at least one blog post each month.  Of course, if February were a more ordinary month rather than being stunted in its growth, today might be February 31st and I would be making my goal.  But I feel like I have a good excuse for not being as timely in my blogging.

February is always a busy month for me, as well as other deans at Michigan State, for two reasons:  faculty hiring, and reappointment, promotion, and tenure reviews.  An important part of the job as dean is the recruitment and development of faculty in our college.  The first part of that process is hiring new faculty, and much of the work (from my end) occurs during the month of February.

What also occurs in February each year is my review of tenure-system faculty who are going up for reappointment (during their third year), promotion to associate professor and granting of tenure, or promotion to full professor.  Both of these are time-consuming and critical processes, and they take a good deal of time during the month of February.  Throw in a week-long trip to Azerbaijan (more about that in a later post), and my month was shot.  In this post, I provide an inside look into how we hire new tenure-system faculty in our college.  My next post will detail the reappointment, promotion, and tenure process.

Faculty Hiring

The hiring of tenure-system faculty is a long and expensive process.  It starts in the spring of each year, when we look at our current faculty and determine the areas where we have openings.  This decision is based on retirements coming in the next few years, resignations, and the results of that year’s searches, along with our projection of what departments and subject areas have the greatest needs.  We also must take into account, of course, our finances, and ensure that we have the funds necessary to hire new faculty.  When we hire faculty in the tenure system, we assume they are going to be successful in earning tenure. So when we hire someone, we are making what we consider to be a career-long commitment–which could typically be as long as 40+ years–to their employment and development.

Chronicle of Higher Education advertisement for our openings this year

Chronicle of Higher Education advertisement for our openings this year

During the summer, the department chairs appoint a search committee for each position, generally consisting of six to eight individuals.  Each committee has faculty from the area in which we are searching, and usually at least one faculty member from outside the department and one graduate student.  The committee develops a position description, and then in the early fall, we begin to advertise the position in higher education media, as well as via professional organizations and posting on our website.  Each committee is required to make special efforts, beyond just advertising, to develop as strong and diverse a pool of candidates as possible.  This recruitment occurs during the early part of the fall semester, and involves phone calls, emails, and face-to-face meetings at professional and scholarly conferences around the country.

After the deadline for applications is reached, which was October 31 for our 10 positions this academic year, the search committee reviews the applications. The number of applications may range from as few as 15 to over 100, depending upon the area in which we are searching.  The committee whittles the list down to a group of semi-finalists, generally numbering 8-10, who are selected for preliminary interviews with the approval of the university’s Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives (OIII).  These preliminary interviews are generally conducted via Skype or some other form of videoconferencing.

Following the semi-finalists’ interviews, the committee recommends finalists to be brought to campus for interviews.  This selection is made again with the approval of OIII, as well as my consent.  Depending upon how quickly the committee works, the on-campus visits can happen anytime in December through February, and involve an intensive one and a half days of interviews, presentations, and meetings with small groups.  I meet with each finalist, as long as I am not traveling, and try to attend their research talks whenever possible.

Following the visits, the search committee meets to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate, and forwards its recommendation to the department chair, who then provides me with his or her recommendation.  I then determine whether we will make an offer to one or more candidates.  Our college’s Assistant Dean for Operations and Finance, Sam Larson, works with the department chair and me on the parameters of the job offer, which includes the salary, start-up package, and other factors.  For some candidates, the offer is even more complicated because we need to investigate a joint appointment with another department.  This requires coordination with a department chair, and sometimes the dean, of another college at the university.

We then communicate the offer to the candidate, who begins a sometimes orchestrated, sometimes freestyle dance of negotiation.  I’m involved in all aspects of the offer process, from formulating the initial package to reviewing any requests for changes.  In the end, we hope that we can reach an agreement with our top candidate, and that person agrees to join our faculty the following fall semester.

As I said above, faculty hiring is an expensive and time-consuming process.  By the time each search is concluded, hundreds of hours have been invested on the part of our faculty and staff, and we invest a lot of money in hiring new faculty and helping to ensure their success.  Since I became dean in 2012, we have hired 33 new tenure-system faculty in our college.  Four of these faculty hold joint appointments in other colleges in the university.  We have searches for 11 more faculty underway right now. Seven of these have already concluded successfully, with a number of other offers in the hands of candidates.

Bringing new faculty into the College of Education is among the most important tasks I perform as dean.  The faculty are the foundation on which our excellence is built, and the time we invest in their recruitment is well worth the payback over the course of their careers.

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Donald Heller
Donald E. Heller is Dean of the College of Education and a professor in the Department of Educational Administration at Michigan State University. Prior to his appointment in January, 2012, he was Director of the Center for the Study of Higher Education and professor of education and senior scientist at The Pennsylvania State University. He also has held a faculty appointment at the University of Michigan. His teaching and research is in the areas of educational economics, public policy, and finance, with a primary focus on issues of college access and choice for low-income and minority students. He has consulted on higher education policy issues with university systems and policymaking organizations in California, Colorado, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Washington, Washington DC, and West Virginia, and has testified in front of Congressional committees, state legislatures, and in federal court cases as an expert witness. Before his academic career, he spent a decade as an information technology manager at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Donald Heller

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