Affirmative Action

4.1 Composition of the Search Committee - Handbook for Faculty Searches with Special Reference to Affirmative Action

No faculty committee has greater ability to make profound and substantive changes in an academic unit than a search committee. Membership on such committees should be reserved for individuals who thoroughly understand the requirements of the position to be filled and who are committed to the mission and goals of the unit and the University. The search committee is formed to act on behalf of the University. The search committee members are not representatives of special interest groups.

The committee members should have time in their schedules to serve in this capacity and should be willing to serve. They should be able to recognize talent and insist upon high-quality work. Members should be of high personal integrity and be able to participate in a confidential search process without gossiping. Leaking information to people outside of the committee can be disruptive for the search process and can cause the loss of high quality candidates.

The search committee should be composed of individuals from diverse backgrounds in order to provide a variety of perspectives, as well as sensitivity to affirmative action issues. It is desirable to include women and minorities from within the academic unit on all search committees, however, since these individuals tend to be asked frequently to serve on an array of committees, this may not always be feasible. In such cases, the unit administrator may wish to enlist the aid of women and minorities either from other units within the college, from related academic areas or from the community. Additionally, support staff and community members may serve as consultants to the search committee and play a useful role in identifying and interacting with applicants.

Experience has shown that search committees with at least five members and at most nine members are most effective. However, some units may have bylaws which require smaller or larger search committees. The committee chairperson is very important for the committee's success and should be a faculty member with leadership ability whom the unit administrator can trust. The ability to deal with conflict situations and handling paperwork are important skills for the chairperson. This individual should also be able to keep the committee focused on the charge and should be an advocate for MSU. Unit bylaws may require the search committee to select its own chairperson. Otherwise, the unit administrator may wish to select the committee chairperson. In this latter case, the committee chairperson may also assist the unit administrator with choosing the other committee members.

The search committee must designate one member to be the "Affirmative Action Advocate." This person need not be a woman or minority; experience has shown that the role of affirmative action advocate can be fulfilled effectively by a Caucasian man. The advocate should evaluate all steps of the search process in terms of the goals and principles of affirmative action, and bring deficiencies to the attention of the search committee (or as necessary to the attention of the unit administrator) for corrective action. The position should be widely advertised and the search committee should not unconsciously engage in discriminatory practices. In most academic disciplines, the greatest challenge for the search committee will be to actively seek women and minority applicants (see "Advertising and Enlarging the Pool of Applicants"). If necessary, a subcommittee formed from the search committee can address this task. Ideally, each member of a search committee will become an advocate for affirmative action.

Some units customarily place students on their search committees. There is no University policy on this issue, and it is probably best decided on a local level. In any event, students should have an opportunity to meet a candidate in an informal setting or to attend a presentation made by a candidate. The committee should invite students to share in search activities and to share their views about candidates.

Since search committees function as advisory committees to a unit administrator or dean, recommending one or more individuals for a position, the unit administrator or dean should not be a member of the committee.

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