(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2015)
It is still common, in the public and publicly assisted university, for the inclusion of some form of faculty and staff participation in the process of hiring unit administrators--deans and their equivalents who are charged with the management of the "operating units" of the modern university. But of course, faculty and staff have limited opportunities to be involved in hiring their managers. At many universities, that engagement involves participation by representatives of internal stakeholder groups--faculty, staff,. students--in a screening committee that considers submitted expressions of interest. Once winnowed down to an acceptable level, the finalists are usually brought onto campus for presentation to the unit--through a combination of interviews, meetings, and the opportunity to present to the relevant community. These stakeholders are usually given an opportunity to report their reaction to and assessment of the candidates brought to campus. These reactions, taken together with the impressions of decision makers and the relevant due diligence usually forms the basis of a decision on hiring of managers of this sort. The final decision, of course, is usually reserved to a senior officer of the university--usually the provost, confirmed by president and sometimes the board of trustees.
At first blush, this procedure appears innocuous enough. And also inclusive enough, providing at least a sense of thinking and reaction within a unit that may well be burdened with a choice that has, for all practical purposes, been made for it through representatives, outside stakeholders and administrative superiors.But in an age of retaliation, in an age in which one can never be sure about the ability of an institution to keep information confidential, the process raises an issue, especially for those in the most dependent position--to what extent do formally inclusive procedures of this kind expose the most vulnerable employees to a risk that their opinions, perhaps unfavorable, will be communicated to those who assume management of their unit--exposing them to a threat of retaliation?
That is the issue this post considers--and offers a suggestion for going forward.