Recruiting the Best Faculty

By making the job offer at Dartmouth more competitive, the College will be better suited to identify, attract, retain an even more talented and diverse faculty.

By making the job offer at Dartmouth more competitive, the College will be better suited to identify, attract, retain an even more talented and diverse faculty.

Dartmouth’s commitment to attracting and retaining its exceptional faculty is fundamental to the institution’s success. While most research universities are primarily focused on hiring the best scholars and most liberal arts colleges are primarily focused on hiring the best teachers, Dartmouth is fully committed to both. This dual focus is an important part of the College’s ability to provide the preeminent undergraduate education it offers.

However, this dual mandate, coupled with other factors inherent to the College’s location and size, makes it difficult for the College to compete with peer institutions for the best faculty. On Tuesday, April 15, Dean of the Faculty Michael Mastanduno and Dean of the Thayer School of Engineering Joseph Helble facilitated the ‘Moving Dartmouth Forward: Faculty Recruitment and Retention’ discussion and spoke at length on the subject. Their remarks primarily focused on the challenges the college faces in attracting faculty and the initiatives currently in place to hire faculty of minority backgrounds.

According to Mastanduno, the college currently has about 420 tenure track faculty and 200 visiting or adjunct professors. Of this pool, 39% are females and about 20% self-identify as underrepresented minorities. Over the last five years, there have been about 95 professors hired of which 27% self-identified as underrepresented as minorities, compared to the 80 professors that left during this period, of which about 20% self-identified as underrepresented minorities. This net increase reflects the College’s focus on increasing diversity.

A number of policies are geared toward creating a more diverse interview pool and expanding Dartmouth’s ability to hire tenure-tracked faculty of minority backgrounds. Typically, each department’s search committee will bring the top three candidates to campus for interviews. If there are no minority candidates amongst the three, the search committees are allowed to bring a fourth candidate of a minority background to campus (assuming that candidate is roughly within the top ten or fifteen candidates within the applicant pool). Should the second best candidate be of a minority background, the College will often hire both candidates Additionally, the College will often provide additional resources to hire qualified minorities even when not actively filling positions in a particular field.

With all faculty hires, Dartmouth is often at several disadvantages compared to its competition. As Professor Ronald Shaiko of the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center explains, Dartmouth demands more of its professors than most institutions. Tenure-tracked faculty members are expected to teach a full course load, publish at the same level as faculty at other research universities, and (in the case of many professors not in the natural sciences) do so without PhD students. As Dean Mastanduno explains, though many potential hires are attracted to the Hanover community as a safe environment to raise a family, Hanover has its difficulties. It can be difficult to find occupational work for the spouses of potential hires in Hanover, it is relatively expensive to live in surrounding area, and there is the ever-present ‘playmate problem’ of faculty being isolated as the only professor in their particular field. This can make Dartmouth a tough sell for many qualified professors, including ones of a minority background.

The Freedom Budget’s recommendations do not address any of these fundamental issues in attracting or retaining underrepresented minority faculty, nor do they reference any of the current policies in place. Suggesting that the allocation of more funds for diversity hiring is meaningless – the issue is finding and attracting talented minority faculty, and the currently policy is explicit in making that a priority. The College has been relatively transparent with its tenure and hiring processes. While it is true that professors of minority backgrounds are often called upon for mentorship and service, the tenure process takes that into account. But as Dean Mastanduno explains, mentorship and service cannot compensate for inadequate research or inadequate teaching in the hiring process. To declare a department ‘in crisis’ and in need of ‘immediate action to right the injustice’ solely because of a lack of diversity undermines the central focus of the College to support the best scholar-teachers. Needless to say that it is impractical to run a search for a department solely based on race.

We propose several alternative suggestions to aid in the hiring and retention of talented faculty, including those of underrepresented minority backgrounds. First, we believe that every department should expand the size of each applicant pool for new faculty hires. As Dean Mastanduno alluded to, there is definitely room for improvement in the way some departments build an applicant pool. A commitment to review the process for publicizing an open position and soliciting applications would allow for more variety and inclusivity in each search. This could take the form of reaching out to more institutions or reviewing the work in a greater selection of scholarly journals. There should also be a comparison to comparable departments at peer institutions to gauge where our applicant pools are smaller or missing out on important constituencies. What is the most important is that each department individually proposes tangible, additive steps.

Second, we propose that the hiring of faculty shift away from rigidly following static lines within departments and allows for more flexibility to incorporate student demand. As some departments become more popular, the inability to hire additional professors puts a strain on enrollment where people are either locked out of necessary classes, or forced into over-enrolled classes where size inhibits the student experience. Conversely, as some departments or subject areas become less popular, classes can suffer from significant under-enrollment or cancellation, which is a waste of resources. Creating more interdisciplinary positions could not only solves these problems, but they culd also create broader and more appealing opportunities with which Dartmouth can attract more talented faculty.

Lastly, we believe that the College of Arts and Sciences should adopt the formal mentorship initiative employed at the Thayer School of Engineering. As Dean Helble outlined at the discussion, the Thayer School has a formal policy of naming a mentor in the offer letter for each new hire. This is based significantly on input from the new hire, and is not restricted to the department nor to Thayer. This allows newly hired faculty to solicit advice without impacting tenure decision. By importing this structure to the College of Arts and Sciences, we believe that the additional formal guidance for junior faculty would be constructive to retention.

The suggestions outlined above are but a step in strengthening an already strong process, and are certainly not all-inclusive. Dartmouth needs to continue its focus on hiring the best scholar-teachers in order to provide the unparalleled undergraduate education the College is known for. And by making the job offer at Dartmouth more competitive, the College will be better suited to identify, attract, retain an even more talented and diverse faculty.