I'm a faculty member at a small liberal arts college with significant financial problems, which make the long-term viability of the college questionable. In addition to faculty pushed out, junior and senior faculty have been leaving for other institutions.

My department gained approval to do a tenure-track search. I am wondering how and when to communicate the situation to candidates. The normal sequence for a search is:

  1. Solicit applications.
  2. Interview the stronger applicants at the big annual meeting in our field.
  3. Invite the best matching 3-4 candidates for an on-campus interview.

Our reasons for wanting to let candidates know about the problems are:

  • It's the right thing to do.
  • We don't want them to reject us after we've used up a campus visit on them.
  • We don't want one to leave a year or two after accepting the job because they did not understand the extent of the college's problems.

When should we let candidates know about the problems and how explicit should we be? For example, we could point them to news articles, put them in touch with junior faculty not involved in the search, etc.

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    Why are you hiring if you do not think you can pay the employee according to the contract? Is hiring an accreditation requirement? I think the ethical thing to do is to advertise the position as being available for the period where you are sure you can pay. – Anonymous Physicist Jun 17 '19 at 10:35
  • @AnonymousPhysicist but that assurance nominally would come from the Dean and if the Dean says there is TT position, I would take that as a sign the university is willing to honor the contract. – StrongBad Jun 17 '19 at 12:06
  • @AnonymousPhysicist I don't think the college will fail in the next 6 years, and ours is not one of the departments under threat. – Embarrassed tenured professor Jun 17 '19 at 14:22
  • Are the financial issues public to any degree? Public enough that somebody doing their homework on you would find it relatively easily (e.g., Sweet Briar College)? If so, asking the higher-ups what to say when asked explicitly would be a good thing. – Jon Custer Jun 17 '19 at 19:01
  • @JonCuster Yes, the information could be found if you searched for "<college name> financial", but it's not national news, just local and higher ed news. – Embarrassed tenured professor Jun 19 '19 at 2:40

As a member of the search committee, and as a department in general, you want to aid the department in getting the best candidate possible. Misleading the candidate and losing them after the campus visit, or even after a few years, hurts the department. Doing the right thing may have long term benefits but might cause short term problems.

I would pass this off to a higher up. If you are not on the search, ask them how they are dealing with it. If you are on the search committee ask the chair of the search and/or the chair of the department. Once you get to the university level, they should be able to produce some numbers that presents the university in the best light. While this seems like it is deceiving, what you basically want to do is convince the candidate that whatever they have heard in the news, there is still a good reason to think the university will pull through the difficulties.

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    The chair of the search committee asked my advice. I am sure our higher ups would not volunteer information about the problems and would play them down if asked. – Embarrassed tenured professor Jun 17 '19 at 0:28
  • @Embarrassedtenuredprofessor I would ask the dean if you should preemptively say something or if asked how you should respond. Hopefully the dean is still on your side. If the Dean says don't worry about it, then I don't think I would go against them. – StrongBad Jun 17 '19 at 0:38
  • We don't have a dean, just a provost, who is part of the administration, although nominally a faculty member. – Embarrassed tenured professor Jun 17 '19 at 14:19

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